DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World – Theatre Royal, York

Reviewer: Tony Oliver

Writer: Ian Kershaw

Director: Raz Shaw

On a warm June evening, a socially distanced and masked audience is waiting for the play to start. There is an air of anticipation and you can almost feel the energy as theatre goers get to see a live performance after such a long time.

On stage there is a blue spangly carpet and two large sets of shelves which seem to rise into the stars. On the shelves are lots of boxes. Bare lightbulbs hang from the sky. The set is simple but complements beautifully for the story that follows. What is in the boxes is the natural question. When the story begins we find out that in the boxes are shoes, slippers and plimsolls, these are used to represent the characters that we meet on our journey.

Julie Hesmondhalgh, instantly commands the stage and full of warmth and humour relays the story of normal life on Preston Street, linked to the 1977 Voyager Probe mission into deep space, wheelie bins and Neighbourhood Watch.

It’s a cold December night, and at 04:40 AM only two people are awake: Tom with his tartan slippers at number 28 and Sara in her overly large David Bowie T-Shirt at number 27. Mr and Mrs Forshaw, who are Tom’s neighbours are asleep next door. Both Tom and Sara stare out of their windows into the strangely silent Preston Road, and both worry about being left behind.

As Hesmondhalgh tells us the story of each character, we return to each shoe box, the shoes inside representing each character are placed on the carpet as we hear their story unfold. It’s such a simple idea and as the shoes are positioned they seem to take on the life of each character, the audience can almost see the character in their minds as their story fills the shoes and makes them live.

The lights dim as the live action is interspersed with recordings of the Voyager Mission and the golden record that was recorded to send into outer space to represent the Earth and its inhabitants. These pieces are enhanced by the simple lighting design as the lightbulbs twinkle and shine against the darkness of the stage like stars in the sky. So simple, but so effective.

As the story develops, the pace and energy onstage increases, the words flowing beautifully and drawing the audience into this story. In essence this is a love story with space and time travel woven onto it. At the end, having travelled through Space and Time, the audience is left to consider if there was one thing that could represent you, your life and our world what would that be?

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World may not live up to its title, but this was 70 minutes of wonderful story telling in a simple but very effective setting that led to most of the audience giving it a standing ovation at the end.

Runs until 5th June 2021

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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