Review: The Greatest Play in The History of The World at York Theatre Royal

Ian Kershaw wrote The Greatest Play in the History of the World in 2018 before any of the current  pandemic rules and lockdown were even dreamed of; when people were free to go where they liked, when they liked, and it is therefore a remarkable coincidence that the theme of the play is so apposite.

By Angie Millard

Tom and Sara are single and alone. They catch sight of one another through bedroom curtains across the street. The story is about two isolated people making a connection. There is a sci-fi element to the plot as somewhere in outer space NASA’s Voyager probe carries a compilation of life on earth: ‘The Golden Record.’ Somewhere on this very earth, in Preston Rd, time has stopped at 04:40; and the couple are part of a time travel experiment.

Kershaw wrote the piece as a solo show for Julie Hesmondhalgh, his wife. He clearly understands her strengths as an actor. She has excellent timing, and creates a relaxed, light performance. The set is minimal, consisting of a dark carpet, a string of light bulbs and a wall of shoe boxes. The plot requires that the narrator tell the stories of characters in Preston Rd using their shoes. It is a novel device, and works up to a point, but leaves Hesmondhalgh merely relating the life story of Tom and Sara. The author injects some interest by calling Tom’s next door neighbours Tom and Sara and it becomes clear that they are part of a time trip. A confused message emerges about life and how we want to be remembered but I longed for the actress to inhabit the characters more fully.

We are beginning to re-explore theatre at present and the solo show is undergoing a sea change as one of the outcomes of this. Until we can be assured that large casts are safe, this play fills a space and allows us to explore possibilities using the word and our imagination.

Theatre will survive and it is emerging through just such productions. Last night was a sell out and the audience certainly loved it.

The Greatest Play in The History of the World was performed at York Theatre Royal on Tuesday 1 June 2021 by Julie Hesmondhalgh. The director was Raz Shaw, designer was Naomi Kuyck Cohen, lighting designer was Jack Knowles and author was Ian Kershaw.