JB Shorts marks its 10th anniversary with a special REloaded programme of six favourite short plays and some top name casting in Richard Hawley (Coronation Street’s Johnny Conor), Sean Ward (Corrie’s Callum Logan), Arthur Bostrom (‘Allo ‘Allo), Darren Jeffries (Hollyoaks) and James Quinn (Early Doors).
We talk to Coronation Street Story Editor, Lindsay Williams, who wrote the very first JB Shorts play and whose play, ‘The Outing’ is part of REloaded:
Where did the original idea come from?
The original idea for JB Shorts came from two writers, Trevor Suthers and John Chambers who wanted to put on a night of short plays to give TV writers a chance to do something fresh and original outside the confines they usually have to work with in television. They approached some other writer friends with the idea of putting a night on in a pub. It was only supposed to be a one-off event but it went so well that the writers decided to make it a bi-annual festival. Though we had no idea at the time that it would go on for ten years!
How has it changed over that time?
We started off in the basement of Joshua Brooks pub with very little set and very basic lighting. Over the years we were at Joshua Brooks our audience numbers grew and so did our ambition to do more challenging plays. A few years ago we moved to the much larger venue of 53two and we were able to be much bolder and more technically challenging work. In the last few years we have produced everything from operas to a 15-minute version of War and Peace.
Is it like a playground for soap talent?
It definitely is a playground for both writers and actors. In our day jobs many of us are writers and producers on shows such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale, which are dream jobs. But JB Shorts gives us the opportunity to create characters and worlds we would never normally visit. On JB Shorts we can write about anything from festivals, to footballers, to Mexican ballad singers to Scrabble tournaments.
There have been a lot of big names among the casts. Has JB Shorts helped launch careers too?
JB Shorts is a great showcase for actors, both those who have years of experience under their belt and those who are just starting out in their careers. We get a lot of casting directors from both theatre and TV who make sure they never miss JB Shorts. Plenty of actors who have starred in JB Shorts have gone on to getting parts in Coronations Street, Hollyoaks and plenty of other theatre shows.
Why did you decide to do a best of this time?
Over the years we have written and produced 120 plays, and so we decided that on our 10-year anniversary that it would be fitting to see some of them again. We don’t think of this as a best of show, as there have been so many great plays over the 10 years that we couldn’t possibly ever choose the six best, so instead we decided to put on some of our favourite plays that we hadn’t seen for a while and we would hoped would be new to some of our growing audience.
How did you choose just six plays for this run?
With great difficulty! It might be the hardest thing JB Shorts have ever had to do and took about three months of discussion. In the end we decided to go for plays that had never been performed at our new 53two venue before including one play form the very first JB Shorts.
How many plays have you written for JB Shorts and how did you pick just one for this event?
I have written 12 plays for JB shorts over the years, including a musical, a play about corruption in the aftermath of an earthquake and a wedding day farce that was the first ever play at the first ever JB shorts. It was incredibly tough to choose and I left the decision up to our wonderful Artistic Director, Roger Haines, who always comes up with the running order for our shows. I’m really excited to see The Outing again and thrilled to have the amazing cast of Jennie Howarth-Williams, Richard Hawley and Kerry Wilson Parry on board.
What is the challenge of writing a 15 minute play?
I think the key to a good 15 minute play is that regardless of the subject or genre of the play you still need to take the audience on a journey. In many respects it is the same as any type of drama or comedy, you just need a good story.
Would you consider taking JB Shorts to Edinburgh or elsewhere?
JB Shorts has always been a Manchester institution and we think that’s the best way to stay.