Monday, 26 December 2011


Steve Balshaw reviews
Strawberry Jack: A Tale from Paradise Heights  
***** Five Stars

Written & Directed by Joe O'Byrne
Christmas seems to be a time of year for heartwarming tales of forgiveness, redemption and renewal, of the bad made good, the broken healed, the darkness made a little lighter.

So when Joe O’Byrne advertises STRAWBERRY JACK as “A Christmas Tale” there’s a certain expectation as to what it will be about. And the set up plays into, and plays UP to those expectations. This is the tale of Jack Grundy, “Strawberry Jack”, a brutalised, burn-scarred bouncer at the Ace of Spades Nightclub. Jack is a bad man, who has done some very bad things, for an even badder man - Frank Morgan, the psychopathic crime kingpin of Paradise Heights. But lately he’s started to lose it a little. His bottle is gone. His friend and colleague, Deaf Freddie is covering for him as best he can, but the other doormen are starting to suspect something - particularly that cocky little prick Dave.

 Matthew Ganley (DAVE) Strawberry Jack

Bad enough to be a bad man whose “baditude” has gone for a burton, when there are challengers to your crown all around, but there’s a further complication. A far worse complication. A few nights ago, Jack saved Mandy, one of the bar girls, from being raped. Beat her attacker half to death, left him in a coma. No more than the bastard deserved, far as Jack’s concerned. Only problem is, the would be rapist happens to be the brother of local gangland up-and-comer Jimmy Gargan. And Gargan’s just looking for an excuse to move on Frank Morgan’s empire. First of all, though, he’s put the word out. A £5K bounty on anyone who gives up the person who hospitalised his brother.

So far, so noir. This is a classic tale of a hard man trying to break free, but trapped by his environment, the jaws and claws of which are about to close on him forever. Jack’s bottle’s too far gone for him to consider fighting back, and he cannot run. He has commitments; he has dependents. There’s his Uncle Mel, the man who raised him, who protected him from his own brute of a father, his mind now lost to Alzeimer’s and despair, veering between bitter resentment of every perceived slight and childlike helplessness. And there’s Mandy, who Jack wants to help, who he finds himself drawn to - a chance perhaps for a little beauty, maybe even for love, in his bleak, brutal life.

 David Edward Robertson (DEAF FREDDIE) and Ian Curley (STRAWBERRY JACK)

Jack copes as men of his nature always do. He drinks. He gets off his face on pills. He broods, and rails against the world. He breaks into a church on Christmas Eve, and he rails against god. And there he meets a mysterious woman. She is the ghosts of all his Christmases past, she’s Clarence the Angel trying to earn his wings. She offers him a chance for redemption, if he can just turn his back on the life he has thus far led. For a moment, we can almost  hear A Christmas Carol. It looks as though it really IS A Wonderful Life, even in Paradise Heights…

But there’s the rub. This is, after all, Paradise Heights. And Jack is who he is. He seeks redemption, but he desires revenge. Whatever the cost to his soul…

Characterisation is pin-sharp. Ian Curley never plays for sympathy as Jack - this is a hard, ruthless man, but one who is coming unravelled. In his interplay with others, we see his humanity revealed, - be it in his sparring with his fellow doorman Deaf Freddie (a deft and laconic turn from David Edward Robinson), in his awkward, uneasy attempts to define his relationship with Mandy (a lovely study in hardbitten vulnerability from Alice Brockway), and above all in the heartbreaking relationship with his broken and confused father figure, Mel, played with lovely warmth, humour, and baffled vulnerability by O’Byrne himself (O’Byrne demonstrates his versatility by also putting in a cameo as the vicious human pitbull Jimmy Gargan). Completing the cast, Matthew Ganley’s craven gobshite Dave is a masterful depiction of swaggering blowhardism, while Jo Kirkham scores double as Dave’s snide, avaricious girlfriend, and as the woman who offers that fleeting chance of redemption. 

Strawberry Jack and SHIRLEY (Jo Kirkham) 

The dialogue is pungently, darkly witty, shot through with unforced pathos and flashes of real poetry, in keeping with the blend of naturalism, Brechtian theatre craft and magic realism that define the piece as a whole. O’Byrne is a master of the unexpected pay off to a recurring motif, and while he does not flinch from onstage violence, he is also aware of the effectiveness of understatement - one of the most bone-chilling moments here is provided by Mandy casually discussing something she just witnessed at work, which, whether she knows it or not, is somebody being led off to their probable death. Did I mention there’s even a song? Written by O’Byrne and the Tangled Man, and performed by the inimitable Stella Grundy, this serves as an atmospheric counterpoint to the action, as well as being a taster for the forthcoming TORCH.

STRAWBERRY JACK finds Joe O’Byrne at the top of his (considerable) game, playing on audience expectations of both the traditional sentimental Christmas tale, and the cynical noir crime drama. In one, the girl can offer redemption, in the other, she will invariably get you killed. With a master storyteller’s skill, O’Byrne sets up all of the mechanisms that we know will damn and destroy his protagonist, then puts them into motion. The audience can only watch, hoping that, just this once, their fears will be misplaced. That tragedy will be averted. After all, it’s Christmas…

Alice Brockway (MANDY) and Ian Curley (STRAWBERRY JACK)

But it’s also Paradise Heights. And even Charles Dickens wouldn’t go there without someone riding shotgun.

This is a self-contained piece, but, as always, with the Tales from Paradise Heights, there are hints of the larger tapestry, clues to stories happening elsewhere, answers to questions raised in other works in the sequence, that will appeal to those of us who have been following the Cycle for a while. TORCH, is coming soon. Anyone remotely interested in theatre, in storytelling in general, should get ready to check it out.

Steve Balshaw
Director, Salford Film Festival

Saturday, 17 December 2011


Hi all

STOKING THE FIRE AGAIN: Two New Plays On The Way...

I've just seen a review for STRAWBERRY JACK that is a stunner, the kind of review that makes this kind of struggle all worth while, a review that I'm sure will only help us in getting the play on in further venues regional and national.  On top of that the lovely PAUL CRYER of filmed the first nights run of the show, the DVD will be available in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime here are a few stills from Paul's filming:

 DAVID EDWARD ROBERTSON (Deaf Freddie) and IAN CURLEY (Strawberry Jack) outside Frank Morgan's ACE OF SPADES CLUB, Strawberry Jack
 Deaf Freddie and Strawberry Jack outside Frank Morgan's ACE OF SPADES CLUB, Strawberry Jack

 Strawberry Jack and Mandy (ALICE BROCKWAY) in the bar, Frank Morgan's ACE OF SPADES CLUB. Strawberry Jack
Strawberry Jack and Mandy, Strawberry Jack

Deaf Freddie and Strawberry Jack After hours at Frank Morgan's ACE OF SPADES CLUB, Strawberry Jack

Strawberry Jack and Melvyn (JOE O'BYRNE) at Melvyn's House, Strawberry Jack

Mandy and IAN Strawberry Jack at Melvyn's House, Strawberry Jack

Strawberry Jack and Shirley (JO KIRKHAM) at the derelict church,
Strawberry Jack

Mandy and Strawberry Jack: Strawberry Jack

Dave (MATTHEW GANLEY) on The Ace of Spades Club Door, Strawberry Jack

Strawberry Jack in the derelict church, Strawberry Jack

Huge thanks to Paul Cryer for these stills, full DVD due shortly.
A time for quiet reflection?  Take a chill pill? Sit back, kickback and relax? Let the grass grow a little?  Nah...Never been one for sitting still. 

Ben Mottershead is currently beavering away on the edit of The Making of Strawberry Jack Documentary that will no doubt help push the play further, Ben did a fantastic job on The Making of The Watcher - a talented young film maker that is sure to go far.

Obviously TORCH is on the horizon, another play in the series.  This one will be another huge step forward, and will need a few quid in the kitty, that's something I'll have to work on.  STRAWBERRY JACK showed us the outside of Frank Morgan's club The Ace of Spades, TORCH will take us inside, and inside the mind of a twisted TORCH SINGER Nula Christie, THE QUEEN OF CLUBS working at THE ACE OF SPADES.  If you saw STRAWBERRY JACK you will have heard her, THE GEMINI MAN is one of her songs. 

THE GEMINI MAN - Stella Grundy (Lyrics: Joe O'Byrne, Music & Composition: The Tangled Man) by Paradise Joe

I'll be writing a couple of more songs to be performed live in TORCH, and indeed I hope to be collaborating with TANGLED MAN, RUTH PARFITT and HOLLY KIM WYATT on a possible Songs and Music from Paradise Heights Concept Album - it was such a buzz working with them for Strawberry Jack that we'd be missing out if we didn't.

I'm planning a short film before it, to go hand in burnt hand with TORCH, a stand alone film with it's own story (that is ALWAYS important, they have to work as their own singular tales) but fans of the series will see the bridge between STRAWBERRY JACK and TORCH. 

There's also another play I'm working on, DIANE'S DELI (working title - may change) that will very possibly be premiering at one of the regions leading theatre's between April and June - before TORCH - I'm hoping to confirm that one here very soon.

But more than anything I want to get STRAWBERRY JACK out there again, so I'm looking for spaces, theatre programmers if you're reading this please get in touch, that said I will very probably be getting in touch with you...:)

It's also looking like there will be some good news shortly on certain films that have been made in the Tales from Paradise Heights series, Watch this space.

Finally, what I'm really looking for now is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is Tales from Paradise Heights - a PRODUCER.  A producer who will help us get to London, will help us bring the finance in to do if that's you and you want to work with a dynamic forward moving company, a team of talented professionals, with a tremendous back catalogue of successful and well reviewed projects just itching to hit London - please get in touch and let's talk...2012 is gonna be big...

Oh, and here's that review I talked about, another 5* one to add to the collection...

Monday, 12 December 2011

STRAWBERRY JACK: A Turning Point...

Hi All

Last week was a turning point for Tales from Paradise Heights.

The show was fantastic in every department, it could have stood shoulder to shoulder with any production in the West End.  This company excelled itself, threw itself whole heartedly into the production from the first reading of the script.  So far so 'nothing different' all the productions have been this way.

Launching it at Salford Univesity was important to me/us.  The seeds for the series were planted there, yes, but it was more about will the theatre going public?  How will they take to a story that was 'too violent' at least on paper - to one well known theatre in the region - and absolutley no grudge to that theatre, love them all there and I'm sure one of our productions will play there.  Of all the fabulous feedback we have had - none of it has even approached the subject of 'violence' - it was never an impression I wanted to leave the audience with, it was - as all the stories have been - about humanity, struggle, redemption, consequences of actions that must be faced and most of all - love

It's full of LOVE.  Deaf Freddie and Strawberry Jack's camraderie, Freddie's concern for his former Warhorse Hero, Jack's love for Mel and of course finding Mandy.  Mandy's love for the man that saved her, Mel's lost love and  - yes it's there - Mel's love for Jack.  So I'm happy that the violence stayed where it was, left behind in the story - present and necessary - but left behind. 

I am so proud of this show and delighted that so many fresh faces with so much talent are now part of the company, it will open some very exciting new doors for us.  There are already plans for a Tales from Paradise Heights Concept Album, music and song from The Heights - shot through with Paradise Heights flavour of course, this isn't Grease or The Sound of Music - but The Heights will be alive with the sound of music...Heights Stylee...;) 

Obviously to go hand in hand with that we will shoot video's to accompany those tracks, unleashing more fabulous creativity from the fantastic talents involved in the series so far. 

We now need to regroup, prepare Jack and the other productions - and indeed those to come - for a full scale launch across film and theatre.  It's not going to be easy but with the connections we have made over this production it will be easier. 

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing we call life - electric word life - whatever, GRAB IT AND MAKE THE MOST OF IT - we are here a very short time - LEAVE SOMETHING BEHIND...

Tell the world that you're and and life.

Here are a few more pix from the dress run of Jack last week, Making of Documentary on the way...STRAWBERRY JACK is here to stay...

Pictures and Poster by Darren McGinn

Strawberry Jack (IAN CURLEY) and Deaf Freddie (DAVID EDWARD ROBERTSON

Strawberry Jack (IAN CURLEY)



 JOE O'BYRNE (Not in costume - tut! As Melvyn) and ALICE BROCKWAY (Mandy)

 JO KIRKHAM (Shirley) and IAN CURLEY (Strawberry Jack)

 JOE O'BYRNE (Melvyn)



 ALICE BROCKWAY (Mandy), IAN CURLEY (Strawberry Jack) and JOE O"BYRNE (Melvyn)

IAN CURLEY (Strawberry Jack) and JOE O'BYRNE (Melvyn)

 IAN CURLEY (Strawberry Jack) ALICE BROCKWAY (Mandy) and MATTHEW GANLEY (Dave)


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

STRAWBERRY JACK: The Arrival...and Dress Run Pics...

Hi all

JOE O'BYRNE - Melvyn, Strawberry Jack

Maybe it's just Tales from Paradise Heights productions...?  The TENSION backstage was palpable as we were about to go up last night.  A serious prop problem that occured 2 minutes before we went up - and I mean a MAJOR problem...A half blind actor practically incapacitated due to losing half his face behind a wonderful prosthetic...and a Director who hadn't spent quite enough time directing HIMSELF (I was putting on the best act ever assuring all that I was fired up and ready to go - in truth? TERRIFIED)...

And then we launched, the train left the station - no stopping now untill we reached the destination - curtain. 

It coughed, spluttered a little and then just...LAUNCHED.  The cast delivered, the tech delivered...things can be slightly slicker but this was a first run...the audience were gripped, the cast punching it out -  fans of the series are already calling it '...the best tale yet from Paradise Heights...' Some audience were already booking tickets to see it again this week before we had changed out of our costumes, we have a four star review in the pipeline and KNOW we can do BETTER tonight...STRAWBERRY JACK is a MONSTER production...this MONSTER is now very much ALIVE. 

We have four more shows...I can honestly say you won't have seen anything quite like STRAWBERRY JACK - a Seasonal Thriller Stocking Filler...Christmas will never be the same again without our JACK. I feel like Doctor Frankenstein - this simply incredible Cast and Crew have poured their hearts into creating a monster, a Monster full of Pure Paradise Heights Heart, but we LOVE our Monster and hope you do too...four more to go...DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT THOUGH, come and see for yourselves.


Darren McGinn (the genius behind the trailer and the concept art) came to our dress run and began snapping are just a few of his pics...


DAVID EDWARD ROBERTSON, Deaf Freddie and IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack




DAVID EDWARD ROBERSTON, Deaf Freddie and IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack


Deaf Freddie and Strawberry Jack


IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack and ALICE BROCKWAY, Mandy

IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack and JOE O'BYRNE, Melvyn


IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack

IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack and ALICE BROCKWAY, Mandy

 DAVID EDWARD ROBERTSON, Deaf Freddie and IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack


IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack and ALICE BROCKWAY, Mandy

IAN CURLEY, Strawberry Jack


More updates later this week...Joe x

Strawberry Jack

Strawberry Jack
Designed by Joe O'Byrne