One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Wed 13th – Sat 16th November 2013

reviews

Jack May

at 01:54 on 14th Nov 2013

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What is most immediately striking about One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is its playfulness. Even before the cast, Henry Jenkinson and Emma Powell, appear, the work of Lighting Designer Zoe Higgins gives a taste of the entertainment to come. This is a play that is defined by its ability to take the everyday normality of British life and make it something worth watching – something that captures the imagination, and, more often than not, gets a good giggle from its audience.

The frame that encircles the play gives an indication of its purpose – we see two ladies in a theatre cloakroom, going through customers’ coats and chatting. In essence, we catch sight of ourselves, though through an unfamiliar eye, and are teased into self-awareness by each of Craig Taylor’s miniature works of art. We see ourselves in the nurses compelled to say “don’t get me wrong, I like the girl” before anything that might possibly be construed as racist in any way whatsoever, and in the man who finds having his hair cut to be one of the most stressful experiences of his working life – our empathetic faculties are constantly awoken by myriad scenarios and circumstances, and contented laughs inevitably give rise to pauses for thought and the acknowledgement that this is who we are and how we live.

All this is charismatically rendered by the transfixing duo of Henry and Emma. Their ability to become completely different characters within the fifteen seconds between scenes, whilst simultaneously switching tones, moods, and atmospheres is astonishing, and their renditions are utterly believable at every stage. Once Henry has become a blonde daughter on the phone to her mother, conducting a hilariously vivid conversation using only the word “yeah”, it seems unfathomable that he could ever have played any other role, and yet moments later he’s a young gay man in the wake of an attempted suicide at the play’s most poignant moment. Comedy and tragedy are inescapably intertwined throughout, and the result is a provocative depiction of the way we live our lives. From our awkward customer service relationships and incessant pleases and thank-yous that we love to laugh at, to our darker moments - the cross-class concerns of family life, friendship, love, and death, and the money troubles that plague many of us, we are given a richly-woven tapestry of life as we know it.

The individual scenes are entertainingly linked by musical interludes, either in the form of classic British hits – Kaiser Chiefs et al – or Emma’s lovely hymn-singing (with Henry’s occasionally questionable harmonisations to accompany), and this helps achieve the seemingly impossible – to unite a hugely diverse and disparate patchwork of scenes, characters, and moods into one cohesive and convincing performance. Ellen Robertson has created something truly remarkable in her direction of this play – she has fashioned an anthology of what makes us who we are, as Britons and humans. Without wanting to sound too much like a Mail reader, this is a play that makes one intensely proud of one’s country in the sardonic, ironic, self-deprecating, and intoxicatingly defeatist way that only the British seem able to be, and it is without shame that I walk away from this production feeling truly warmed, humming ‘Another Country’ quietly to myself, and having enjoyed a thoroughly good night at the theatre.

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is a heartstring-plucking, soul-stirring, and undeniably satisfying production. And it’s pretty funny, too.

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Kei Tao Katie WONG

at 02:21 on 14th Nov 2013

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Not having been brought up in this country, watching the play is like having telescopic vision, zooming in and out across Britain.

The essence of each character was captured with charm within few minutes they were presented on stage. With only two actors on stage, playing the roles of nearly 50 characters, both Henry Jenkinson and Emma Powell kept the pace of the play. Although the theatre was not packed, the sudden bursts of laughter made the theatre particularly warm and welcoming. The play ran very smoothly. It was very well choreographed and rehearsed.

There was a line of clothes hanging on stage, so that costume changes kept the pace of the play.

Since the play itself was originally a column on the Guardian, director Ellen Robertson brings the characters to life through filling in the gaps of the background of the characters. There were a few smart touches of costumes, such as the wigs that represent the granny hairstyle, and the oversized, cutout T-shirt in representing a music festival. With the aid of lighting, the sofa, desk and bench suddenly evokes the sudden setting changes. Zoe Higgins’s tints of blue and red background lights also boost the air of Britain.

A variety of music was used to allow time for the actors to change into another character. This includes a mixture of stereotypical British music, Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, the theme tune of ‘James Bond’ to Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’. The start of the play was particularly witty, setting the spirit of the whole play through playing Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from ‘Planets’ and gradually lit up the stage along with the rhythm.

So what is humorous about this play? Perhaps audiences are allowed to laugh at the habits (that no one knows where they immersed from) of the stock figures of what is generalised to be ‘Britain’. Many of those, such as the doctor from NHS and the street cleaners were all very stressed with their work. Certainly, the characters do represent people that we know, which makes the characters so recognisable. And now that we are given the space to review the incomprehensible habits, we are able to laugh.

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