Review: One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Sophie Williams 14 November 2013

11pm, Wed 13 to Sat 16 Nov 2013, ADC Theatre

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is really comforting theatrical viewing (especially for a Part II English student like me who has had to read nothing but tragedies for the last few weeks.) The show is comprised of various vignettes depicting many aspects of British life, all of which started life as columns by Craig Taylor in the Guardian.

Each scene is not a comedy sketch per se, nor even – as the play’s title suggests – are they tiny ‘plays’. They don’t really have plots, nor are any of the vignettes really connected. They are snapshots of multifarious aspects of British life. As Dryden wrote of the Canterbury Tales, “here is God's plenty.” Northerners, southerners, working class people, middle class people, Welsh people; upwards of fifty characters appeared on stage last night in just over an hour. So many characters who never usually get shown on stage get a say for a few minutes: the people who hold up signs with people’s names on at airports; the old ladies who guard the cloakrooms at theatres; and a streetwise teenage girl who bemoans a love-rival’s excessive show of thong, saying that in her day, she wore her thong so that only a little bit peeped out, like “the end of a sunset.”

Despite one lapse into dated, working-class cliché (a vignette in which two girls discuss whether ASBOs are a status symbol) and a few delves into bad taste (nurses involved in a ‘Make a Wish’ foundation-type charity complaining about carrying out a dying boy’s last request), the show never falters as a whole.

What’s most impressive about the show is not the writing, or even the characters. It is that they were all played by either Emma Powell or Henry Jenkinson. The wonderfully exuberant comedic style and expressive face of Powell found a perfect counterpoint in Jenkinson’s brilliantly understated performances. Last year at Arcsoc, when drunk, I told Jenkinson that I thought he was a bloody fantastic performer who had not yet found the right show to show off his abilities. And in One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, I think he’s found it.

But it is impossible to discern who the stronger performer is – nor is it really necessary, for both get ample time to shine. Powell and Jenkinson transform even the mundane of lines, lifted straight out of the kinds of conversations you might overhear at the supermarket or have with your mum, into something hilarious. The play is even more impressive still for its brilliantly-acted touches of pathos. Powell as a wife whose husband has cheated on her and Jenkinson as a man who recently attempted suicide made my heart wibble in separate scenes.

The production is not afraid to make you run the gamut of life’s emotions; it is not committed to being 100% a comedy, which it might have been tempting to do with such funny (for the most part) material. The only problem I had with the show was some dodgy Geordie accents in one scene. Otherwise, I cannot recommend this show enough. Perfect for easing you into the Week 6 home stretch.