Star rating – 7/10
For its Christmas offering this year, the Royal Exchange has chosen a quintessentially Northern comedy by Salford born Harold Brighouse. ‘Zack’ is set in the 1920’s, and is really a morality play about how being kind to other people, and a good hearted person will get you through in life, and will outweigh any minor personality flaws such as laziness, and a little too much liking for a good plate of food.
Zack lives with his mother and brother Paul. They have a failing joinery business, and marginally more successful catering business. Both come from the northern school of hard work, and telling it like it is, with little refinement. But they both also seek betterment, and think that they see it in the form of cousin Jenny and her family’s fortune, and seize their chance when she comes to stay with them to convalesce from an illness.
The title role of Zack is played by comedian Justin Moorhouse, a brave choice as he better known for his stand up than for his acting, save his performances in the TV series ‘Phoenix Nights’ and Ken Loach’s wonderful film ‘Looking for Eric’. And he is very good in the role, it has to be said, even though the inevitable romantic ending with his beautiful and glamorous cousin Jenny is a little hard to swallow in the believability department. And forgive the spoiler re the ending but believe me it is that obvious and well telegraphed anyway.
Brighouse’s play is very funny, even though the first half feels a little stronger and much funnier than the second. It is not his most famous play, that accolade possibly belonging to ‘Hobson’s Choice’, and has not been performed at the Royal Exchange since 1976. Director Greg Hersov does a fine job of entertaining the audience, but the storyline and humour do seem to fade a little towards the end.
But Moorhouse aside, there is some strong and hilarious acting, especially from Pearce Quigley as the cunning and devious brother Paul, and from Polly Hemmingway as Zack’s hard and unloving mother. It is not an Exchange classic, but it is very fitting Northern fare for the festive season.