How often do you hear someone complain that they never have time to read? Too often? Or are you guilty of this yourself? If so, Craig Taylor’s superb book is a godsend. The title is more or less an accurate description of the contents – although there are slightly fewer than a million of Taylor’s carefully crafted snapshots of British life: ‘dramatic haikus’, perhaps, as Richard Eyre suggests in his introduction.
The format of each play is the same: a brief sentence to set the scene, then the dialogue takes over. The longest runs to three or four pages, the shortest to one sentence. A range of scenes is covered – from two women in a queue at a Surrey bank, to a farmer in Kent speaking on his mobile phone from a tractor, to a late night on Newcastle Quayside. The characters are diverse too – young and old, drunk and sober, flippant and serious.
However, it is the perfectly observed sharpness of speech that makes this book stand out. At first, you could believe that Taylor has merely been in the right place at the right time and recorded everything that he heard. Lines like ‘I once took Diana Rigg’s coat – in her pocket was a packet of Polos. That’s an elegant mint!’ and ‘There’s more to it all. More than Swansea,’ sound so authentic that you believe in the speakers and their lives, however brief and insignificant their conversations seem to be.
Some of the plays rely on a growing sense of unease – the nervous customer in the barber’s shop: others are out and out funny – two Wonder Women fighting in the street. Every ending is well judged and either rounds off the play with a ‘reveal’ or a cliff-hanger – always showing, never telling. Ideal for reading in short bursts or longer chunks – well worth a look.