I've been reading One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor, and published by Bloomsbury, for several months now because it's not a book I wanted to read cover to cover in a week or so.The book's been picked up, put down, a few more plays read, left for a while, back to it again, but it's been a constant on the book circuit around the house.
These little dramatic encounters first appeared in the Guardian and many readers were justifiably fooled into thinking they were 'snippets of dialogue snatched from real life.'
It's hard not to read and feel as if you are eavesdropping on real-life conversations when in fact each is a dramatic little play of its own between two people and each cleverly representing and exposing some little nuance of British life.
Two builders on building site.
The mother sitting by her son's hospital bed.
Two mother's standing near a Santa's grotto in Barking.
Two DJs prepare for a New Year's Party in Watford.
Each no more than a few pages long and described by Richard Eyre as 'dramatic haikus' a 'keyhole through which you can peer at contemporary Britain'.
Craig Taylor must be out there with his wits and his ears about him listening to the great British public to have come up so much that feels so accurate, because as you read you listen and you can hear, and I'm now sitting here wishing I'd walked around all those doctor's surgeries I've worked in over the years with a little notebook to hand.
Just think of all those waiting room gems I've missed, all those front desk observations I haven't really observed.
Having shared an office with district nurses for many years I've listened to enough one-sided phone calls to fill an encyclopaedia, you know the sort of thing,
Nurse - Oh dear that must be awful for you...not since last Saturday...yes, that's five days...no, right...no you don't take them...no definitely not...have you been swallowing them then...oh dear, and they still haven't worked have they...no don't do that...no really best not to...I'll call round later and we'll sort it...well I'll explain how when I see you.
Nurse - He's pulled it out again has he...that can't have been easy...gosh...really...was the balloon...no...it was still inflated?...yes...I'll bet...yes that will have made his eyes water quite a lot.
Mine on the Health Visitor side of the room equally amusing to them so they used to tell me and usually involved asking 'what colour is it?'
But nothing as clever as Craig Taylor who does include a few medical encounters, but mostly these are the moments that anyone of us could witness except I doubt I'd quite be able to define the unspoken embarrassments or expose the prejudices as well as Craig Taylor does.
This is clever dialogue and now I'm intrigued by mentions of Return to Akenfield, Craig Taylor's 'documentary-portrait of rural England through the voices of its inhabitants.' Not only for its links to Ronald Blythe the original author of Akenfield published thirty-eight years ago, whose new book I'm really looking forward to, but for this as outlined by Andrew Motion in his 2006 review,
'Return to Akenfield is a generous tribute to the generosity of the place it describes, and tells a heartening story about tolerance and resourcefulness. Have the same qualities saved and invigorated other villages elsewhere? It's difficult to say, and reasonable to feel doubtful. The faulty connection between town imperatives and country living remains one of the great national issues of our time.'
Being almost villagers ourselves (fifteen years done, not sure how many before full entitlement) there's much more I'd like to explore there
Michel Faber in his foreword to A Million Tiny Plays About Britain highlights the messy demographics of modern Britain and with it the vast ocean of material available, but also that to describe these in too much detail would entail using more words than the play itself, but he also rightly says everyone will have their favourites.
Mine this week?
Play no 64 (Two sisters are on a train home to Suffolk) and more than that I can't say, but if you lay hands on the book I think you'll find your own favourites too.
Craig Taylor will be performing a selection of these plays with friends at Port Eliot and I can't wait.