The word ‘fringe’ is slowly starting to diminish when describing theatre. It’s almost become a word that isn’t ‘politically correct’. Fringe theatre is defined as unconventional or otherwise distinct from the mainstream and over the years there have been some questionable productions cushioned by branding as a fringe piece. As performances have become more artsy and ‘out there’, a stigma has been formed about the quality of fringe productions. This has mainly stemmed from a misunderstanding, rather than poor quality. It’s very rare I find a piece to be entirely bad.

Nonetheless, fringe is becoming a nothing word, as the quality found in the fringe scene could challenge that of mainstream theatre, with powerful writing, incredible acting talents and visionary directors. It seems some of Manchester’s creatives agree with me. One group changed its Facebook group name from ‘fringe’ to ‘independent theatre’.

But there are some instances where the definition of fringe still resonates, when theatre is brought to a stage it hasn’t treaded before. This time, that place is Irlam. I spoke to Jane McNulty, the founder and organiser of Irlam Fringe Festival, about why she brought world-class theatre to the Salford suburb.

“I started thinking about this project two years ago, in 2013. Irlam has a community festival every year and it’s been running since 1960. I thought, what we need here is some theatre. And the idea for the Fringe Festival was born.”

Jane is a screenwriter and playwright who has contributed to JB Shorts, an evening of six 15-minute plays. She mirrored this format for her festival in order to showcase new writing while keeping it accessible and affordable.

“People submitted their scripts after putting the callout on Facebook and Twitter, and people started sharing the posting. I had 364 submissions for this year’s event, from all over the world – America, Canada, New Zealand.”

This amazing response was then whittled down to a shortlist of 20, and then again to make the final six, and performed for two nights at Irlam Catholic Club.

After finding success with the festival last year, Jane applied for funding from Arts Council England for the 2015 event, which she was granted. This year’s event sold out and received heaps of positive feedback from the audience and locals. When asked about the future of the festival, Jane said, “Given the terrific response to this year’s event, I don’t see how I can’t do it again next year. People are already asking if it’s going to happen.”

Before I sit down to my first of many Irlam Fringe Festival experiences, I asked Jane for her favourite moment of the festival. “The moment when the audience are all in their seats, glass of something cold in hand. And the stage lights come on, and all those months of reading, planning, writing funding bids – suddenly it’s out of my hands and in the hands of the cast. And that bird flies. It’s wonderful.”

Feeding Time at the Human House was a great opening piece. Light-hearted and funny, it engaged the audience immediately. The story follows a couple, Bernie and Fran, who between them make the usual quips you expect from a comedy piece centring on a relationship – quibbles about each other’s annoying habits and mothers-in-law. Except this time, Bernie and Fran are baboons observing our human behaviours from their enclosure at a zoo. The piece is amusing and touching at times, with a great display of physicality from actors Charlie Ryan and Olivia Sweeney, just enough so the audience can buy into the characters as animals without disengaging.

We then meet the characters of A Large White Loaf and a Tin of Rice, a tale of unrequited love and dog walking. The piece had some lovely moments, with Jools (Jo Dakin) walking her dog up the gangway of the audience. The script was interesting with some comedic moments and awkward encounters some of us may be familiar with.

The next piece is one from the US, written by Tom Coash. In Raghead, we witness a part blind date, part social experiment, which looks into our religious perceptions. When Sarah shows up to her blind date with Nick wearing a hijab, unexpected sparks fly. Sarah isn’t Muslim, but she wanted to see how she was treated if she spent the day dressed like one. When she refuses to take it off for the date, the couple walk their separate ways. Beautifully directed by Lucia Cox and performed by Kate Mitchell and Adam Urey, this one stays with you.

After the interval, we are greeted with another comic piece, in which Cashio (Ryan Greaves) resurrects William Shakespeare (Derek Hicks) from the dead to ask the famous bard to write a sonnet to win back a lost love, with hilarious results.

Before we can get too comfortable, we move on to Bad Thing, my favourite of the evening. It’s a moving story of two brothers and an impending shift in their relationship. Mike is ill and it’s not looking good. He worries about how Jimmy will cope without him. As the two travel in post-Christmas traffic to the doctors, we see how much Jimmy depends on Mike and how he “just wants it to be you and me forever”.

The final piece is one everyone can relate to. You Haven’t Changed a Bit is a beautiful and poignant story of being in love with someone all of your life who barely remembers your name. Lottie has never been to a High School reunion but Len has been to them all in hope one day Lottie will appear. Now they are the only two left, can their story begin?

Kate Morris