Craig Taylor’s stage sketch show dates back to the nineties, when the writer worked at a western Canadian hardware store, committing the most memorable customer conversations to paper. This resulted in the self-published One Million Tiny Plays. After moving to London he kept writing down “inescapable” conversations, and in 2006 The Guardian began publishing one tiny play a week, before a book of them came out a decade ago. Having premiered at the Watermill in 2016, this year the Laura Keefe-directed piece returns to Bagnor, and though the format is restrictive, the issues raised remain poignant, relatable and relevant.
The versatile Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls play all the characters, first appearing as theatre ushers interacting with the Watermill crowd. In the segment that follows, a rather charming and unfussy opening, we learn they are prone to casually dipping into theatregoers’ coats for mints. However, the show is at its strongest when highlighting serious matters. We see Nicholls as a Ukrainian, distributing flyers door-to-door for an Italian restaurant. Having received the literature, Barclay’s elderly resident eagerly darts outside to talk to him about whether the place does delivery (before even reading properly). Cue a slight lack of coherence owing to the language barrier, and an insight into the loneliness faced by many older people in the UK.
Elsewhere teenaged dark thoughts are touched on via two metal-heads in a fast food joint, Barclay ages again for a bit about dementia and care in the community, plus the lack of acceptance faced by the queer community comes up courtesy of Nicholls’ portrayal of a man in hospital after a suicide attempt, whose mother is utterly dismissive of his love for another man. Unfortunately the set-up of Taylor’s play means you don’t get to see enough of any character or storyline in which you’re truly interested. That said, it still allows for plenty of eye-openers and relatable parts. A scene involving two football fans in a toilet draws attention to shy bladder syndrome and concerns over penis size, plus the questions a Brummie kid (Barclay) asks her dad (Nicholls) on a train did actually have me questioning the logic behind first-class carriages.
There are no sidesplittingly funny moments – though Nicholls’ depiction of a drunken, pregnant, jealous Wonder Woman on a hen night is a highlight – and nothing all that harrowing. But the pair move speedily from scene to scene, never faltering, in a show comprising a game of Bingo (where you’re allowed to shout ‘nearly Bingo’) and fluid use of props and costume. As we only see snippets of Britain here, a lot is left to the audience’s imagination, leaving us to almost live out more of the characters’ lives in our heads.
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain is at The Watermill until 15 February