JB Shorts: an affordable night of comedy, politics and feels

Our review of JB Shorts 24.

Charlie Watkinson Charlie Watkinson - 20th May 2024

Last night, we checked out the latest edition of JB Shorts at 53Two, featuring six super relevant and often hilarious short plays right here in Manchester city centre.

Covering everything from grief and UK politics to AI, each story had its own unique spin and definitely made you think.

Joyce Branagh’s Isobel Openshaw Saves the Day kicks off JB Shorts with a bang. This political comedy, directed by Alyx Tole, had a proper feel of old British sketches. Branagh, who also plays Isobel, nails it with her sharp, witty character who sees through political BS.

With Joanne Dakin as Jenny Legohead and Callum Sim in multiple roles, the cast’s comic timing is spot-on. The plot follows Isobel’s wild rise in politics, poking fun at British political antics and media hype. This had stellar performances all around and the lively humour made it a great opener.

Next up was Maz Hedgehog’s Aftercare, directed by Justina Aina, which shifted the mood with a more introspective tone. This piece is set outside a sex party and explores the emotional aftermath of an intense encounter relating to BDSM, in an attempted playful manner.


Meg Narongchai as Bree and Trayvaughn Robins as Tobi could potentially have done with polishing this a little more; we sometimes struggled to understand the purpose and meaning of the story as the delivery and performances weren’t quite up to scratch – all effort though.

It wasn’t until Macaulay Cooper burst onto the stage that we understood what they were going for a little more, bringing his infectious and playful energy to a story that certainly needs some work/tweaking. The play struggles to find its footing; the dialogue, though sassy and heartfelt at times, just didn’t quite land, leaving myself and the audience wanting more from this. 


Food Fight, by Lindsay Williams and Cathy Crabb, directed by Miranda Parker, brings back the energy with a comedic yet touching look at food banks and poverty. Jenny Williams is great as the bossy Davina, who has her own biases about food distribution.

Jessica Ellis’ Amy challenges these ideas, adding real conflict. The supporting cast, including Chris Brett and Emily Ash, were a great addition who brought lots of camaraderie, I especially loved the line about the tins of beans. The ending felt slightly rushed however the play’s timely social critique and charming characters make this a solid piece. 

Dave Simpson’s Life Is No Joke, directed by Robert Marsden, this one plucked those heartstrings – A heartfelt look at fatherhood and unfulfilled dreams. Darren Jeffries shines as Mike, an accountant dreaming of a comedy career, while Manc acting veteran John Henshaw is perfect as the old-school comedian father, Kenny.


I absolutely fell in love with all three of these characters and their sheer vulnerability. Amy Du Quesne narrates and plays Kathy (Mike’s love interest) so well, while Darren and Amy oozed chemistry, making the sad moments hit even harder. The play balanced laughs with touching moments, getting the audience involved from the start to create a strong connection and make this an emotional highlight.

James Quinn and Trevor Suthers’ This is Not a Play – directed by Quinn himself – tackles the complex and timely issue of AI and its impact on reality and creativity. John Tueart and Victoria Tunnah play siblings entangled in a narrative about deepfakes and career sabotage.

With a standout performance from Tueart, particularly, the dialogue is sharp and thought-provoking, though it occasionally veers into verbosity. The play’s meta-theatrical twist adds a clever layer but also highlights the limitations of AI in creative storytelling, ultimately reassuring the audience that the human touch remains irreplaceable.

The night ends with Debbie Oates’ Mrs Proops, directed by Ellie Rose. Isabel Ford and Toby Hadoke lead this touching story about grief and inheritance, with Marc Parrett’s cat puppet, brought to life by Kery Elly, stealing the show.

The plot revolves around Gaz’s struggle with his sister’s death and the quirky terms of her will. Despite a slow pace, the play’s emotional depth and charming performances provide a thoughtful end to the evening, leaving the audience pondering themes of loss and family.


The reviews for the night as a whole have been pretty strong across the board.

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All in all, this turned out to be a great way to spend a Friday night.

JB Shorts is a great platform for new writing, offering an affordable and diverse night of theatre. Even with some unevenness, the collection of plays brings humour, insight, and heartfelt moments, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

We’ve also got a lot of love for 53Two, which remains an important theatre space, cultural site and charity here in Manchester city centre.

Since taking over the reins from founding venue Joshua Brooks in 2016, this low-key theatrical event has gone on to become a real returning cult favourite year after year and one that’s well worth going along and giving a try.


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Featured Images — The Manc Group/Pull Focus Productions