What does Britain mean to you? A question with one million responses, I’m sure. Tonight, instead of a million answers to the aforementioned question, I have One Million Tiny Plays About Britain. This play offers up multiple snippets of British life to both celebrate and reflect on the characters we know all too well.
The play’s author Craig Taylor, originally hails from Canada, moving to London as an adult. The scenes that make up this play are inspired by the conversations Taylor heard upon moving to the city. It’s wonderful how well he captures the different dialects as the scenes move from city to city, with each character carrying the torch for the various geographic sentiments. The script is delightfully ordinary – it calls to the part of us that finds solace in home-comforts, trading in extraordinary adventures for everyday wonders, full of charm and humour.
The variety of characters we meet tonight are all brought to life by Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls. Not only are the pair accent acrobats, somersaulting from one to the next, they juggle various characters and all their costume changes with such clear precision and purpose, keeping a naturally messy play from descending into pure chaos. These characters range from nuanced to caricatures, all of which are brought to life by this duo with the same skill as many beloved British sketch shows. The words are the beating heart of this piece, but Barclay and Nicholls are the blood rushing to all the vital organs, keeping the play alive and thriving.
Ceci Calf’s set design manages to condense British life and fit it on one stage. A bingo hall, a Christmas tree and a tea tray; all items most Brits will have encountered at some point. It’s like a magic trick – a prop is pulled from a costume, which is pulled from a McDonalds bag, which is pulled from under a Christmas tree. For a piece with this many changes of location and character, the transitions could be slowed down due to the set and costume design. However, Calf’s creation lives and breathes alongside the actors, injecting life into those seeming pieces of junk buried in the corners of many garages.
This play seems poignantly timed, both seasonally and socially. In this festive season rife with political division, it’s good to see theatre that celebrates our common ground. In its simplicity, it provides a feeling of joy and hope, notions I’m sure we could all use a bit more of right about now.
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is playing the Jermyn Street Theatre until 11 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Jermyn Street Theatre website.