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The Greatest Play in the History of the World… review at Traverse, Edinburgh – ‘superb’

Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play in the History of the World... at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Jonathan Keenan Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play in the History of the World... at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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Everyone would be a lot happier if they had Julie Hesmondhalgh to tell them bedtime stories. Her husband Ian Kershaw’s lightly sci-fi love story has her narrate the goings-on in a normal street, drawing on the loveliest bits of life: falling in love, staying in love for 50 years, and finding a place in the universe.

Hesmondhalgh, in her beautifully soft voice, explains how two neighbours meet in the small hours of a morning when they can’t sleep and when time has stopped.

The Greatest Play in the History of the World is interspersed with voice-over about the golden records sent out into deep space on the shuttle Voyager containing snapshots – in music, maths, literature, science – from Earth.

Kershaw’s writing is just as wonderful when he’s talking about the huge unfathomable depths of space as in its more terrestrial moments, such as his descriptions of bins and Facebook neighbourhood watch groups.

Warm and comfortable, the play itself is just like the cuddly, bobbly cardigan Hesmondhalgh wears as she skips and pounces around the stage.

It takes great skill to tell a big story like this and to command the stage so effortlessly for more than an hour, bringing big bursts of life to Kershaw’s world. But it’s skill that Hesmondhalgh has in excess quantities.

Under Raz Shaw’s direction, she turns this tiny space, with its dark-blue spangled carpet, into an entire cosmos.

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Verdict
Superb performance from Julie Hesmondhalgh in husband Ian Kershaw's sci-fi love story
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