Review: Zack at the Royal Exchange

In which our hero, a dark and handsome specimen, is wrongfully sacrificed in a tragic final scene…

Zack (Justin Moorhouse) making the best of a bad situation

There is something biblical about Harold Brighouse’s play, running at Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre until 22 January. Though billed as a ‘tender and hilarious classic’, the signs are ominous for Zack’s voluminous beard, from the moment that evil temptress Virginia reveals a shaving kit – offered somewhat ludicrously as a ‘birthday present’. From then on, the audience has a suspicion about what is on the cards. Can Justin Moorhouse’s Zack resist the lure of this wicked woman? It’s a storyline that mirrors the offering of fruit to Eve by the serpent.

By the tear-jerking final scene, Zack has been brainwashed and succumbs to temptation. The audience is aghast as Virginia inflicts the fatal blows herself, taking an acute pleasure in this dishonourable undressing of his face. And when the transformation – nay, degeneration – is complete, she has somehow tricked our sad leading man into believing he looks better? As the lights go down, it’s hard to know whether to laugh at this preposterousness or cry at the tragedy that has just unfolded before our eyes.

Our hero, Justin Moorhouse’s beard, impresses with an outstanding performance in ‘Zack’. Eager to learn more about the up-and-coming star on the theatre scene – and certainly ‘one to watch’ in 2011 – we were told by the Royal Exchange that the newcomer is ‘hoping to work in films eventually‘.


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