Seen at The Robert Powell Theatre, University Of Salford Campus saturday 10th December 2011
How does he keep doing it?
I ask myself this question every time I have the great pleasure to witness the birth of yet another classic piece of theatre from the mighty Joe O’Byrne. The Bolton-based writer/director/actor unleashed his latest creation, ‘Strawberry Jack’ this week, and delivered yet another 5 star effort.
We should be used to this by now. Consistency is this man’s middle name, and work of this quality will surely find a bigger audience soon. ‘Strawberry Jack’ is the latest instalment in O’Byrne’s series of plays located on the fictional northern England estate of Paradise Heights. You don’t have to have seen the previous works; ‘Rank’, ‘The Bench’, or ‘ I’m Frank Morgan’, but if you’re one of the lucky ones who have, then ‘Strawberry Jack’ will reward you on so many levels.
This is the story of disfigured doorman Jack Grundy (who sports a half face of angry red; the result of a horrific childhood accident that has scarred him inside and out). Jack, as played by the always superb Ian Curley, is a character that any actor worth his salt would kill to play. A brooding, guilt-wracked, cornered beast of a man who elicits our sympathy and fear in equal measures. Multi-faceted and Shakespearean in tone. Jack has a secret, which can only lead to tragedy, and O’Byrne’s build-up to Jack’s awful fate takes us through every emotion going. Gorgeously atmospheric music from Ruth Parfitt and the enigmatically-named ‘Tangled Man’ adds enormously to the play’s impact. There’s even a theme song, the haunting ‘Gemini Man’, co-written by O’Byrne and performed in a spine-tingling erotic fashion by the wonderful Stella Grundy.
Jack and fellow doorman ‘Deaf Freddie’ (the remarkable David Edward-Robertson) work at The Ace Of Spades, a notorious nightclub owned by legendary gangster Frank Morgan (unseen here, but check out his previous appearances in ‘I’m Frank Morgan’ and O’Byrne’s superb short film ‘The Watcher’). Curley and Robertson make a delicious double act, swapping razor sharp bitchy remarks that serve to mask a deep underlying respect that will be sorely tested. Junior doorman Dave (a dynamic Matthew Ganley)and his scummy little girlfriend (a delightful Jo Kirkham) represent the drug-fuelled, cold-hearted new generation willing to sacrifice anybody for a few quid. Alice Brockway as Mandy opens proceedings with a gut-wrenching monologue concerning her ordeal at the hands of a local psycho, and impresses throughout as the only woman to get under Jack’s skin. A touching and humorous scene inside a derelict church sees Jack encounter an angel (Jo Kirkham again), which contrasts nicely with a later scene involving a demonic crime boss (O’Byrne) who gets his just desserts. O’Byrne also plays Jack’s ailing Uncle Mel, who provides a good few lighter moments in the play, before writer O’Byrne pulls the rug out from under us.
‘Strawberry Jack’ has more twists and turns than Tarantino, a good deal more originality than any Guy Ritchie geezer-fest, and comes straight from the heart. O’Byrne’s aim is true, and if you’re fortunate to be in the line of fire, then whatever you do, don’t duck; stand rock steady and take everything he offers. Give him and his incredible cast and crew your undivided attention.
Next up from Paradise Heights is ‘Torch’. Kill for a ticket.Review originally written for http://www.thepublicreviews.com/