JB Shorts, Lowry Theatre, Salford

  • @pvall

There is a myth, peddled by Manchester City supporters, that most footballing Mancunians support their team; Man Utd fans, they claim, fly up each week from London. A survey by estate agents Rightmove gave the lie to that this week revealing that 55.6 percent of Mancs follow United, while just 14.8 percent follow City.

But James Quinn has a different view entirely. True Mancs, he insists, follow FC United, the breakaway club formed by disgruntled fans when the Glazer family bought Man Utd and saddled it with $600m dollars of debt.

Quinn’s play Red – at the festival of new theatre writing by top tv writers, JB Shorts @ Re:play at the Lowry in Salford – is a celebration of fan-based football. The writer plays an FC loyalist on the eve of a key FA cup match during which his businesswoman wife is preparing a bid for the catering contract in United’s posh Platinum Suite.

It is a surprisingly even-handed contrast of the romantic and the corporate – pies versus prawns, Fosters v fizz, plucky part-timers v polished professionals – with some uproarious laughs and coruscating lines about the misfits, lefties, librarians and real ale hooligan socialists of FC. Connor Ryan does deft slow-mo miming to re-enact the on-pitch glory.

In Bombmaker by Lindsay Williams (East Enders) a Mossad agent is sent to Tehran to assassinate a scientist working on Iran’s nuclear bomb. A dialectic ensues in which the audience’s judgement oscillates over who is the true terrorist, patriot, family man and fanatic. Williams offers no easy answers but Amir Rahimzadeh’s anguished doubt as the scientist elicits more sympathy than Lucas Smith’s cool certainty as the assassin.

The bravura performance of the evening comes from Judy Holt as the ageing glamourpuss celeb in Maddie by Dave Simpson and Diane Whitley. Unexpected consequences arise when Maddie flirts with the boyfriend of her sulky teenager daughter, splendidly pouted by Emily Fleeshman who finally asserts herself with an unusual use of ten-speed nipple clamps.

In A Christmas Carol by Ian Kershaw (Shameless and Casualty) Jeni Howarth Williams has a feral exuberance as a desperate older woman with a young nightclub pick-up who turns out to have gone drinking straight from his mother’s funeral. Oliver Wilson as Waz has a touching moment of authenticity giving the eulogy the vicar ought to have delivered but didn’t.

Funny, thoughtful and moving JB Shorts are now a much-anticipated annual milestone in the Manchester theatrical calendar.