Saturday, 1 February 2020

REVIEW: One Million Tiny Plays about Britain at the Watermill Theatre

Craig Taylor first published these short stories in The Guardian and then in a book in 2009 as 95 short plays. The Watermill took a selection of around 30 of them, staged them in 2016 and that production returns to the theatre for a short run . As with any collection of short sketches some work better than others but the selection seems intent to offer a cross section of Britain, eavesdropping on conversations between parents and children, friends and work colleagues. 

The randomness of the stories is emphasised by using a Bingo caller to apparently call the next play number with the two actors feigning surprise at the location they are required to create. In fact the whole show is very carefully choreographed by director Laura Keefe and costumed by Ceci Calf to make the changes slick and part of the entertainment. 

The Bingo link is overplayed when the audience are invited to play a game of Bingo at the start of Act 2 for no obvious reason except that it is fun before being entertained with a simple Bingo song. 

Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls play all the characters switching accents and relationships with ease. We meet them first as the ushers guiding us to our seats establishing their ability to comically engage the audience. 

Emma excels as young children with their parent, as in a story about a young boy discussing his goal celebrations with his father, later as a young girl in a first class carriage with her father and also as a child spooked by the security cameras. She also has great fun as a man reading a newspaper with a topless picture and in a conversation at the urinals. 

Alec has an excellent monologue on the phone to his mother which consists almost entirely of saying Yes in different ways to great comic effect. He is frequently called on to act as a female with some rather dubious wigs, as in a scene of two woman arguing over who pays and in the best sketch of the show, where he plays a widow discussing with her daughter her first date with a strange man . 

There are more shocking scenes as when a older lady is confused about where she is, as she is interviewed by a personal carer or a man in hospital after slashing his wrists while suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

There is no time to reflect as we jump from location to location but it is easy to recognise the situations and can imagine over hearing the snippets of dialogue. Many are unresolved situations ending abruptly and it leaves a confused picture, even as the two actors tidy the stage as refuge collectors looking for the diamond in the rough. We can admire the actors' versatility, the director's stitching together of sketches and the cleverness of the costume design in effectively creating the characters but I wanted the comedy to be sharper, the linkages to be clearer and a better sense of purpose to deliver a bigger punch about society today.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls Row H | Price of Ticket: £28
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