sun 21/07/2024

A Brief List of Everyone Who Died, Finborough Theatre review - 86 years, punctuated by fun and funerals | reviews, news & interviews

A Brief List of Everyone Who Died, Finborough Theatre review - 86 years, punctuated by fun and funerals

A Brief List of Everyone Who Died, Finborough Theatre review - 86 years, punctuated by fun and funerals

Jacob Marx Rice's new play mines the bittersweet moments of a long life

Loved up and loving life - Vivia Font and Amelia Campbell in A Brief List Of Everyone Who Died Philm

The family pet dies. It’s a problem many parents face, and when Gracie learns from her evasive father that her dog isn’t just gone, but gone forever, her five-year-old brain cannot process it and so begins a lifelong relationship with deaths, funerals and grief. 

It’s something we all experience but seldom talk about and, as such, it’s fertile ground for theatre. So Jacob Marx Rice’s new play is a worthy addition to the Finborough Theatre’s fine record of staging interesting work in its intimate space, all the more laudable as, on the face of it, this production is a tough sell in difficult times.

We follow Gracie’s life for the next 80-odd years, each episode a vignette in its own right that illustrates her remarkably anxiety-free personal and professional life as refracted through the lens of the deaths of loved ones. She enjoys a happy marriage with Cass, supported by strong intergenerational ties, and her career as a New York lawyer is both lucrative and fulfilling. Such indulgence in overt happiness could be unduly saccharine, curdling into a self-satisfied tweeness, but any such danger is continually offset by loss – the natural order of things as time passes. This balanced approach to karma's ups and downs also spikes any charges that this play is merely another addition to an already ovestuffed misery-porn canon.Finborough TheatreDirector Alex Howarth keeps the pace high (all-through in 85 minutes) and wisely ensures that the small space remains uncluttered, allowing the actors’ physicality to come through, instantly telling us their age in any particular scene with the body language of a mardy teen one minute and a sensual lover the next.

He is rewarded with uniformly fine performances from an excellent cast. Vivia Font (pictured above with Siphiwo Mahlentle) convinces as the protagonist, Gracie/Grace/Graciela (her name changing, as one’s does, the older one gets), forthright but charming, vulnerable but strong. To convince us that this is a wholly realised individual across eight decades of a life is a testament to both the acting and the writing that underpins it.

Other members of the cast play multiple roles, again finding a specificity without ever toppling into caricature. Siphiwo Mahlentle pitches Gracie’s tragic childhood friend, Jordan, with great sensitivity, the kid obsessed with dinosaurs finding his own meteorite. Kathryn Akin’s matter of fact acceptance of end of life care as Gracie’s mother is also delivered with understated emotion and is all the more powerful as a result. Alejandro De Mesa and Amelia Campbell play Gracie’s father and wife in roles that are somewhat underwritten, a trade-off for the snappy runtime I suppose.

Marx Rice finds a sweet spot that homes in on the joys of 21st century life while acknowledging that death is an inevitable thread that runs through its rich tapestry. Audiences will respond to the narrative by locating such staging posts in their own lives, but, by his avoiding the elephant trap of mawkish sentimentality and soapy ostentation, such recollections are more likely to produce a wry smile than a soft sob. That’s not an easy trick to pull off, but this play is successful and will live longer than most in the memory as a result while we await the next of those "Are you sitting down?" phone calls. Because come it will.     


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