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Review: The Greatest Play in the History of the World at Liverpool Playhouse ****1/2

According to Douglas Adams, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is…42.

In this captivating and magical jewel from the live storytelling box, a similar answer is to be found at 04:40 – and at number 30. Number 30 Preston Road that is.

Here, in an ordinary house on an ordinary city street - described in a series of small but finely observed details that combine to create a big picture - something out-of-the-ordinary unfolds during a hiccup in the space-time continuum.

With themes of love, loss, isolation, connection and hope, The Greatest Play in the History of the World could have been written especially for and about these Covid-haunted times rather than before the ‘Rona’ was even a dark shadow on the horizon.

It’s the small hours of a December morning when two lonely singletons – Tom and Sara – discover time has stopped (at the aforesaid palindromic moment) and it appears they are the only people in the world who are awake.

Then they both receive the same message – ‘help’.

Ian Kershaw’s keenly crafted script weaves whimsy with science, words with numbers, to paint a tender and transcendent love story.

Julie Hesmondhalgh meanwhile imbues it with a comforting warmth and conspiratorial cosiness (despite restrictions on direct audience participation), as well as an energy which gives the narrative a real vibrancy.

The story unfolds against a minimal but striking set from Naomi Kuyck-Cohen and under Jack Knowles’ enchanting lighting design.

Charming, funny, thought-provoking and ultimately uplifting, The Greatest Play in the History of the World may not be quite that, but it’s certainly one of the best things you’ll see on stage this year.

Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown


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