Some shows are like fancy Michelin star menus—stylish, decadent and exclusive. Then there are shows like Ian Kershaw’s The Greatest Play in the History of the World which are like your favourite home cooked meal—familiar, comforting and welcoming. And much like the stories shared across decades old dinner tables, this play recognises that to engage your audience you don’t need bells and whistles, you just need a good story, told by a good storyteller.
The Greatest Play in the History of the World exists in the no man’s land between the ordinary and the extraordinary. I suppose you could call it a love story, one which tells of fleeting moments of fluttering hearts and the everlasting memories that live for eternity. Maybe the authenticity of the sentiment is due to the fact that this play was commissioned by Kershaw’s wife, Julie Hesmondhalgh, who now performs the words he penned for her. Maybe the season of mistletoe and Love Actually has taken its toll on me, but this script warms my heart with its honesty, which balances both comedy and poetry.
Hesmondhalgh as our stand-alone narrator will presently join the list of primary school teachers, children’s TV presenters and grandparents who I credit as the best storytellers. Mug in hand, she greets all her friends and relations as they enter and has a little catch-up before the performance starts. This adds to the feeling that we’re in her living room, listening to Sunday dinner memoirs. Her performance is energetic and expressive, but truly effortless. The humour lands, the story flows and I am back on the carpeted floors of classrooms completely enraptured.
The other key feature of this play is shoes. All the characters are marked by a pair of shoes which are brought down from shelved shoeboxes upon a character’s entrance. Both Raz Shaw’s direction and Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s design allow this simple symbol to accompany the moments of hilarity and tenderness perfectly. The use of the audience’s shoes to play certain characters is brilliant; it creates that comical moment of talking about fictional events in relation to a real person. My chunky lace up boots play a minor part in the piece, causing an interlude of improvisation due to the difficulty we have removing them. There are a few jokes added specifically for tonight’s events which cement that feeling of this being an off-the-cuff sharing.
This play is what a roaring fire is to a wintry night. It will awaken the child and the romantic in you all within 70 minutes. The only warning I have, don’t wear embarrassing socks. Other than that, all I can say is that this play is a feel-good piece of theatre and who doesn’t need some of that?
The Greatest Play In The History of The World is playing Trafalgar Studios until 4 January. For more information and tickets, see the Trafalgar Studios website.