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Mr Monkey sees Zack at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 13th December

Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of Zack, by Harold Brighouse, at the Royal Exchange Theatre. He was expecting some proper Northern entertainment with, judging by the posters, quite a bit of cake.
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Zack Mr Monkey looking at costume designs displayed in the Education Lounge coffee table Due to his humans' insistence on eating poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes) at the Christmas market in Albert Square, Mr Monkey arrived too late to see the exhibition of snapshots by Greg Hersov in the Mezzanine Gallery, and decided he'd have to look at them on another day.

He picked up his humans' tickets, had a quick look at some costume designs displayed in the Education Lounge coffee table, and sat down to read his programme.

Harold Brighouse (1882 - 1958) was a novelist and playwright who started writing plays after seeing a particularly bad one. From early on he was associated with the Manchester School of playwrights writing regularly for Manchester's Gaiety Theatre. His plays featured more-or-less realistic depictions of everyday North Western life, often featuring strong female parts. His best known play is Hobson's Choice.

Zack takes place in 1910 and is set in the front parlour of a house in Little Hulton, Lancashire. Zack is the younger son of Mrs Munning, the owner of failing joinery and catering businesses. The daughter of Mrs Munning's wealthy sister visits from the city to recuperate from an illness; the matriachal Mrs Munning sees this as an opportuntiy to reverse her fortunes. Over three acts and five weeks the play shows, with a lot of comedy and some sadness, how the lives of the Munnings are turned upside-down.
Justin Moorhouse as Zack, consoling half the female cast (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
All the cast were very good, no matter how minor or major their role. Mr Monkey was particularly impressed by Justin Moorhouse as the naive and put-upon Zack and was, at various times, moved both to tears and laughter by his performance. Polly Hemingway also shone as Mrs Munning, with a natural fluency of speech, expression and body language conveying more than her lines alone. Mr Monkey was so incensed by the unwarranted self-assurance and cold-hearted meanness of Paul Munning, the elder brother, that he considered hissing at him at one point, which must mean that Pearce Quigley must have been doing something right.

Unusually for a Royal Exchange production, the set - an effective and convincing recreation of a well-worn Edwardian front parlour - stayed the same throughout the play. The nature of the play meant that the special effects staff didn't have much scope, but Justin Moorhouse had his full beard shaved off live on stage. Mr Monkey wondered how they manage to do this once a night (and extra when there's a matinee)!

Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this production, and recommends it to anyone who wants an evening of right proper Northern entertainment. There wasn't as much cake as Mr Monkey had expected, but it was the first time he had seen cheesemakers credited on a theatre programme.

Zack runs until January 22nd 2011.

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