The Preston Bill
Andy Smith & Fuel
The Continental, Preston
Private lives overlaid on events of the last century are a familiar dramatic plot device, and this is essentially a local variation on the theme.
‘Bill’ is Preston’s Forrest Gump, a fictional character whose life—from 1935 to 2015—runs alongside local, national, international and even outer-space events of that period.
It’s a life delivered as a theatrical monologue by Andy Smith, an award-winning writer and theatre maker who also lectures on the subject at Lancaster University. His research into Bill’s life has evidently been academically meticulous, and there have been various small-scale previews of the production around the region, before the four nights of performance here, in the city’s thriving pub theatre.
It’s perfect small-scale entertainment for this venue, playing to a home crowd who respond with obvious affection to the local references from Bill’s life.
It’s more than coincidence that the character should be born on May Day 1935 for his life is one wound around a 20th century worker dealing with war, social and industrial change, and other cataclysmic events. The personal is overlaid on the political and every now and then Smith quotes verbatim from speeches given by obvious icons such as Churchill, Kennedy, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.
Otherwise Bill’s story is served up in rhyming couplets, but illustrating a life more prosaic than poetic. Though there are not many places where same sex weddings get to rhyme with terrorist beheadings...
Without an actor’s poise, or indeed projection, Smith delivers it all with his customary casualness. “This is it” is his repeated refrain, a life that just goes on.
Without stage props (an empty chair represents Bill) and with only a ukulele for accompaniment to a little community singing, it’s the kind of bare-back theatre that Smith delights in riding.
And, gradually, it gets under your skin and into your mind, where you can’t help but measure it against your own history.
The Preston Bill plays here again next week before touring.
Reviewer: David Upton