Writer &Performer: Andy Smith
Reviewer: Bethan Highgate-Betts
Spanning eight decades, several wars and countless political movements, The Preston Bill follows a place called Preston and a man called Bill.
Andy Smith takes us on a journey through the life of Bill and the town he calls home. Born before the beginning of the Second World War Bill grows up in Preston as Preston grows up around him. Visceral tales of bloodied knees and African adventures, we follow Bill as he falls in love, goes out to work and watches the world change around him. A tale of one man, set firmly within the landscape and social landscape of Northern England.
Historical fiction has become a storytelling tradition, looking for the human within the vast historical movements, or in this case within the fabric of an ever-changing landscape. The Preston Bill is crafted in such a way that the story is no more about Preston than it is about Bill and vice versa. Both beautifully intertwined, complementing each other at every turn.
Written and performed by Smith, he is joined on stage only by an empty chair, and it is all the accompaniment he needs to conjure up the figure of Bill himself. Moving the chair around the stage through the stages of Bill’s life creates a sense that we are as an audience joining Smith on the journey of Bill’s life.
Although the rhyming couplets can often be crude and occasionally cringeworthy,
they do not take away from the beautifully crafted story or its heart. At the centre of everything is the idea that no matter what is happening around us, this is it, and that’s enough.
As well as Smith’s obvious writing talents, he is a strong and charming performer. Creating a seemingly effortlessly engaging 60-minute monologue. A mesmerising storyteller, the audience hung on Smith’s every word. With the pregnant pauses and moments of silence just as important to the performance.
There is a moment where the monologue breaks and the audience is invited to join in with a song. With Smith and his ukulele, this moment of loudness breaks the otherwise quite calm of the show in a jarring way that can feel unnecessary. A powerful song not unsuited to the story, but it does feel as if it would be more at home at the end of the tale, giving the show a less disjointed pace.
A charming tale of one man, one place and the history of the world.
Runs until 19 November 2016 then continuing to tour | Image: Contributed