EARLY last month, we reported on the transformation of Manchester’s former Bauer Millet showrooms into a brand new theatre, gallery and cafe space headed by actor and coach Simon Naylor.
The lack of detractions served to highlight the actors’ skill
The ‘hidden arts hub’ has since launched the MFDF fringe series, with the Real Junk Food Project’s Binner Party, as well as hosting its own mini food festival and exhibition - but 53Two’s theatre programme opened for business just last week, with a series of six plays called North South Shorts.
It’s a bit of a gamble. Not only are ‘shorts’ arguably more niche, they also require writers to make an impact quicker; constructing both character and plot in significantly less time than the average story.
The night saw two Northern Playwrights, with one and two plays respectively, and London-based Anna Jordan with the remaining three. Sorry to say I much preferred the Southern playwright: Jordan, a Bruntwood prize winner, made the genre shine instead of - as with Kellie Bright and Joshua Val Martin - letting it constrain them.
With Val Martin, I was sometimes left wondering as to the point. Word on a Wing, a metaphorical poke at bureaucracy, was a little ambiguous and not helped by being the shortest of all the plays; while Painted Arrows seemed to touch briefly on themes like domestic violence, ambitions and the dark side of social media without ever exploring any of them in greater depth.
Jordan’s plays, for me, provoked greater empathy and were a lot clearer in their meaning. Closure, acted superbly by 53Two’s Alexandra Jay-Jones, is a bold one-woman ‘dialogue’ with an imaginary ex. Sad and humorous all at once - ‘Eve’ cutting a lonely figure, downing red wine in a fancy restaurant - it empathetically portrays the messy end of a relationship, where one party isn’t ready to move on.
Closer to God similarly offers a touching portrait of loneliness; contrasting a struggling young mum (Waterloo Road’s Nisa Cole) with a bigoted yet well-meaning old man (John Smeathers). Despite their opposing backgrounds, and consequent views, they are both united in their helplessness; trapped in a ‘shoebox in the sky’.
Lastly, Staunch sees two brothers meet at the funeral of their father. With one now living a flashy life in the Philippines, having left the other to deal with their dad’s decline, a reunion tinged with anger and kinship is acted superbly by Ryan Hutton and Nick Pearse - who is currently filming Snatch with Rupert Grint and Gerard Butler.
Impressive credentials indeed. But not all the cast are starring alongside A-list stars, with some still in the earlier stages of their careers. And it’s this, alongside actors mucking in to set up the stage in between each play, that gives the production a refreshingly unpretentious quality - unlike some of the slick big budget plays that tour the likes of Palace, Opera House and the West End.
The props were very minimal, the lighting very simplistic, the effects nonexistent. Whilst I admittedly would have liked a bit more in the way of these, the lack of detractions did serve to highlight the actors’ skill and I found myself wishing they had a larger audience to perform to. Let’s hope that, as the word gets out about, more people visit this fantastic venue and the performers get the reception they deserve.
North South Shorts runs at 53Two until 22 October
53two has seen the former Bauer Millet showrooms transformed into a brand new theatre, gallery and cafe space