BWW Review: ONE MILLION TINY PLAYS ABOUT BRITAIN, Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre's Christmas shows are always a surprise. After last year's murderous black comedy Burke and Hare, now they're shifting the spotlight on a collection of fascinating vignettes that are, essentially, the definition of one of the internet's favourite words: sonder, which is "the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own". That's the core concept of One Million Tiny Plays About Britain.
Snippets of dialogues that belong to ordinary people across the country are captured and frozen in Craig Taylor's work. The spectrum of the conversations couldn't be broader: he introduces a couple of ushers who pass the time by going through their patron's coats, an older lady who chats up the Ukrainian man who's just put a flyer through her door, a father and son's post-football match discussion, fragments of arguments, break-ups, a mourning mother, and a number of other minuscule explorations of the beauty of human nature.
Director Laura Keefe turns the sketches into a game for Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls. They chase character after character through precisely delivered scenes called randomly from the PA system in a bingo-like scenario. The directions and setting are followed by the duo's hurriedly changing clothes and arranging the stage for the imminent exchange they're acting out. Barclay and Nicholls' meticulous comedic timing and remarkable versatility make the production a smooth stream of personalities and attitudes.
They switch genders and ages seamlessly, painting a picture of a united nation that, unknowingly, shares a similar existence within its borders. Immediate humour dominates the mood, but Tiny Plays doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty of real life and dips its toes into the depths of the darker side of it, albeit very briefly. Ceci Calf's set design is a delectably tinselled spree of old-time tackiness that elicits a musty smell in the brain upon seeing it.
The selection of stories is an assembly of beliefs and dispositions, offering a line-up of imperfect individuals who are the product of their circumstances. One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is framed as a comedy, but is it really one? The company toy with the Christmassy vibe, and the delightful spot of bingo played with the audience definitely make it a feel-good festive nugget of a show, so perhaps it slightly preposterous to thrust an existential analysis upon it.
The piece is joyous and lighthearted (at the surface, at least), and holds the perfect amount of Christmas cheer and cheek too. Eavesdropping has never looked better, and even running at two hours with an interval one wishes it would never end. Barclay and Nicholls could still be on stage rushing through their layers of costumes and we'd still not have enough of them.
Image courtesy of Robert Workman