By Sue Beckett and Adam Harrington.
All human life in Reading is observed in One Million Tiny Plays About Reading at the Progress Theatre this week, a series of vignettes that includes pet funerals on Caversham bridge, chuggers competing for custom on Broad Street, a boy regretting his choice of barber, an awkward marriage proposal on the Oracle ‘beach’ and a touchingly sad picnic at Reading old Cemetery.
This devised piece of theatre was written by Jack Taylor and is not all comedy, although there is a lot of that. There is sharp observation on the solipsistic moralising of someone meeting a homeless man, in a scorching mini-drama performed by Adam Slack, Rex Rayner and Melissa Evans-Prosser. Reading people’s fondness for using the Thames as a rubbish dump comes in for a bit of stick, too.
But for the most part, the play is a youthfully upbeat cavalcade of recognisable Reading characters: the inconsolable Reading FC fan in a sports bar (“Rotherham! Rotherham!“), the bored schoolboy who submarines a visit to the Maiwand Lion (“we call him ballsack Bill!”), the crushed and frustrated train commuters, the sweating and swearing drivers in a traffic jam, the cringeworthy Tinder date between a Pam Ayres fan and a poet (played by Juliet England and Ali Carroll).
Not much about Reading has gone unobserved; the play, like the town, is full of practical people with little tolerance for pomposity and a fondness for the witty rejoinder; a schoolboy tells his friend he doesn’t need to go to school because “I’ve learned everything I need to know from the street” and his mate replies “but we’re in Forbury Gardens!”
The play gets surreal during an attempt to cross Broad Street whilst avoiding predatory chuggers and assorted lunatics shouting things like “the Oracle is a spaceship!” and “the council is selling your children to raise funds!” A train of monks singing “pie jesu, nominy-nominy-nominy” collides with gay pride march. Yup; if you can’t deal with this level of social fluidity, then Reading isn’t for you!
Everybody who knows Reading would enjoy this play, exuberantly directed by Rhys Lawton and Rachel Taylor. It is a warm-hearted and forgiving love-letter to a busy and often chaotic modern town, with all its faults, acted out with a lot of fun by a dizzying ensemble cast from the theatre’s youth and adult teams.
One Million Tiny Plays About Reading runs at the Progress Theatre, The Mount, Reading RG1 5HL until Saturday 6 April. Tickets can be bought online. The Reading Mencap group will perform an extra scene at the start of the play in a special version on Thursday 4 April.