ONE MILLION TINY PLAYS ABOUT BRITAIN Watermill, Newbury

THIS LAND IS OUR LAND…

 

 

There are actually only about thirty, out of Craig Taylor’s rather wonderful collection of 94 first seen in The Guardian. But the sense of our millions is there, as Laura Keefe’s joyful, quirky production becomes a mosaic of brief British encounters in the four nations None is especially dramatic, but each is loaded with meaning. Perhaps a momentous one – death, separation, revelation – or simply a strategy to get through a tedious day. Indeed the final one in this selection encapsulates both the mundanity and the immensity of human life: two workers pick up litter in an urban park, and one muses on how he likes to invest every crisp-packet or nasty tissue with what might have been its story. His colleague is just exasperated.

 

 

You could relate it to sketch comedy, but because it is free from the need for unrelenting laughter or smart punchlines, it can embrace pathos and disturbance as well: skimming over everything – love, death, family, immigrant labour, Asian marriage codes, body-image. Tones vary from Beckett to Bennett, Ayckbourn to Anouilh. A conversation between a widow and her daughter about the mother’s first attempted date brings tears to the eyes: even though the widow is played, without so much as a wig, by a middle-aged man.

 

 

Thus in a set resembling a cluttered garage, with handy props lying around, playlets ranging from about thirty seconds to five minutes have us eavesdrop on assorted lovers, parents, friends, colleagues, officials (there is a wonderfully preoccupied GP peering into a computer and failing to listen to her patient, and a brief, stroppy immigration officer berating an invisible baffled immigrant family about how on the form an X is not the same as a tick).

 

 

The two players are Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls, though as they grab hasty onstage changes each changes gender and age: Nicholls a disconcerting sight in a pink tutu, and both of them at one point drunken hen-night lasses in Newcastle in cosplay outfits as Wonderwoman and Superman. In Keefe’s cheerfully inventive production, designed by Fly Davis, there is a looming, bright-lit Bingo board: each sketchlet is introduced with a booming voice giving the number and location (“a teashop in Harrogate!” “A surgery in Norfolk” etc.). Pleasingly, the two players at each of those moments have an air of faint surprised panic as they hasten towards the appropriate prop or whip off a layer of costume. They’re playing: we’re eavesdropping, flying like watchful drones over the chequered island.

 
It is brisk – two hours including interval – and set up for a tour of small local spaces. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Keefe extend it to give us another dozen of the tiny plays.
box office 01635 460444 to 23 April
then TOURING to 7 May – details here            http://tinyurl.com/zkskkf4

rating four    4 Meece Rating

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