Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Shrewd, incisive and funny observations of modern life

One Million Tiny Plays About Reading | Progress Theatre | Monday, April 1

JACK TAYLOR’S devised work is both local and universal in its appeal. Multiple sketches are rooted in the geography and landmarks of Reading — but they could be about any town, in their good-humoured coverage of everyday human experience.

The production is based on an original concept by Craig Taylor of recording overheard conversations. Who hasn’t eavesdropped on fascinating exchanges on a bus or in a restaurant?

The stage set is an empty frame in which things can happen and stories can be told. The excellent ensemble cast of 15 players move fluidly across the space in carefully choreographed bustle, changing character and situation with impressive pace.

Trains, cars and a whole range of venues are conjured up through stylised movement and a few wooden blocks. In one tableau, the actors gave an amusing representation of Reading’s Maiwand Lion statue.

Progress Youth Theatre members make up a significant proportion of the cast and it’s always good to see so much young talent on stage. But their efforts are enhanced by several adult actors, so this becomes a production for all ages.

I loved so many of the vignettes such as the clumsy marriage proposal on the Oracle Beach; a cynical visit to a food bank by a publicity-hungry MP; a lazy boy’s work experience in a charity shop and ladies who lunch disapproving of Reading Festival fans.

Reading’s public spaces are celebrated: the Forbury Gardens, Reading Football Club, the library, the railway station. There’s even a nod to Oscar Wilde, who famously spent time in Reading Gaol.

A key theme in the production is the sheer fearsomeness of the streets, crowded with chuggers, protestors and paraders but sound effects of birdsong reminds us that this big town has some truly rural aspects.

This is a shrewd, incisive and funny production, illustrating many facets of modern life. For me, the most poignant scene showed the distress of a homeless man, dependent on other people’s charity and clearly embarrassed by his situation.

Well done to directors Rhys Lawton and Rachel Taylor and the whole team behind this very entertaining show.

Until Saturday.

Susan Creed

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