Andy Smith’s The Preston Bill is a delicate and disarming piece of contemporary storytelling, which plays a potted history of the last 100 years up against the tale of an everyman from northern town Preston – called Bill.
A straightforward disclaimer at the beginning tells us where we are and sets up a smart device for jumping forward in time. A chair is cast in the role of our protagonist and over the course of the piece we attach increasing amounts of feeling and value to it. “This is it”, Smith says. The piece is minimalist in its presentation and Smith’s onstage persona is refreshingly honest.
We learn details of Bill’s life – how being stationed abroad with the Armed Forces affected his relationships with those back home, how he became true working-class hero as a union rep – all the while keeping up-to-date with the current affairs of the day.
Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron are all quoted, amongst others, the hypocrisy of some of their most famous (or infamous) speeches laid bare. With hindsight, they’re read through the bitter lens of irony.
At one point Smith encourages the audience to sing along with a him as he performs a song sung by Bill’s colleagues whilst on strike in the 80s. The affect is touching and bittersweet: we’re all united in exactly the way the lyrics suggest. But we also know where things are going.
Smith’s nuanced and economical use is language is conversational in tone and peppered with moments of poetry. His words rely on his audience’s imagination and memory to fill in the gaps. The Preston Bill deftly works on both a micro and macro level at once. And it’s very moving. But, despite everything that goes on in politics and beyond, our lives go on.