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One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (Susan Elkin reviews)

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain
The Memories Season – By Craig Taylor. In association with The Watermill Theatre
performance date: 06 Dec 2019
venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

Alec Nicholls and Emma Barclay at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo: Robert Workman


The title tells it as it is – with a bit of hyperbole. In theory this show ought to be bitterly disjointed. You can’t make a successful, integrated two hours of theatre out of a series of twenty or so very short two-hander sketches can you? Well actually you can. In practice, Craig Taylor’s play(s), under Laura Keefe’s imaginative direction is/are pleasingly entertaining – original and faintly quirky.

Based on eavesdroppings and situational ideas these fragments are beautifully observed and that truthfulness is what makes the piece flow: from a pair of council employees litter picking in a North London park, to a mother and daughter in a Russell Square pub or a gay man in a Manchester hospital after a botched suicide whose visiting mother will discuss anything but his sexuality. Then are a couple of theatre cloakroom attendants nicking peppermints from coat pockets, an elderly lady with dementia being visited by a care assessor, a father in a park with a child who’s developed a fear of CTV cameras, two football fans and .. on it goes.

The linking device is two fold. First there’s a chatty voiceover who keeps dictating the situations like a theatre director settting improv tasks. That has the neat advantage of informing the audience exactly where we are and what’s happening. Second we’re inside a game of bingo and each time the situation changes a new number flashes up. To reinforce the point the audience are given bingo cards and invited to join in a quick game at the beginning of the second half.

Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls are a talented, very convincing pair switching accents and persona of both sexes as they wriggle in and out of onion layers of simple costumes, grab props and shunt and pieces around Ceci Calf’s versatile set.

Playwright Craig Taylor is a Canadian who now lives in London. Having started writing short scenes inspired by observation in Canada he continued in Britain and eventually, ten years ago, published a book of 95 miniplays from which companies can pick and mix to create a coherent piece of their own – exactly what has happened here. Versions of A Million Tiny Plays About Britain have been performed all over the world.

It isn’t Hamlet or Medea obviously but there is a wide range of humanity in these plays. We all know the people Taylor depicts and that’s what holds the attention.

Alec Nicholls and Emma Barclay at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo: Robert Workman


First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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