Bucket List’s ambition is certainly admirable. Its scope is huge – ruminating on the capacity for individuals to protest – either peacefully protest or violently reject their circumstances. At the same time the show is an intensely personal account – examining the emotional consequences of oppressive policies on a micro, ground level. The two approaches, operating in tandem, are certainly here complimentary rather than distracting, and the overall effect is, at times, powerful.
We follow the story of Mila (short for Milagros, the Mexican word for miracles) as she navigates turmoil and pain on the US border – her mother shot while protesting horrific working conditions, her under-age cousin preyed upon by a police officer, and, the literal nail in the coffin, a cancer diagnosis that, while placing an imminent end to her life, also removes any inhibitions from her ultimate desire – to see those responsible for both her and her mother’s fate executed.
Much in the same way as a certain Stark sibling had a specific kill-list in their HBO show, so too does Mila – spanning from factory managers through to the US President. The plot trickles along, relying often on explicit twists of fate and chance to see Mila progress in her aims, travelling from her small Mexican homestead to more Northern environments. These could be labelled as sins of convenience, but there is something more innate at work – writer and director Nir Paldi deliberately constructing ludicrous (read as miraculous, given the protagonist) plot contrivances and narratives to push his theoretical concept to its necessary conclusion.
There are paradoxes at the heart of the show – just as much as Mila is trying to discover a sense of personal agency, her entire life is governed by the whims of Paldi – he has constructed her world and makes this fact entirely opaque. As Mila says at the beginning of the show, ’sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is not’. Later on she acknowledges the fact that her medication can induce severe hallucinations – is the show, therefore, merely a passing fancy, a child’s game.
It’s easy, therefore, to see why Paldi and Theatre Ad Infinitum won the Spirit of the Fringe Award in Edinburgh last year. Everything about Bucket List drips with discussion, posing and countering every possible argument with few props. It’s a whirling miasma of complexity, constructed in an all-too-real world. This was a patriarchal, oppressive environment (emphasised through the all-female cast) and ticked along through a 90 minute runtime with ease.
The cast excel in what is some luscious material – physical sequences tightly polished and executed deftly. As an ensemble they operated with ease, characters entering and fading as and when necessary. George Mann’s role as dramaturg and movement director has to be acknowledged, it’s fair to add. Elsewhere the cast were acquitted themselves entirely to form – Tamsin Clarke’s central Mila having the necessary conviction and vindication (though perhaps did one too many two-arm thrusts, as if raising them in triumph), while the sheer versatility of Shamira Turner (both in performance and vocally) made her the ideal masculine presence in the show. Special praise must also go to musician Haruna Komatsu, vital to the overall ambience and urgency of the show and seemingly adept no matter what instrument she has to handle.
To a reviewer, granting a five star rating to a show so early in the year can sometimes feel like a capitulation, but for this performance it feels more than justified – this is a labour of live pieced together by a team aware of its pertinence. There is complexity here – while the performance attacks oppressive attitudes in both Mexico and USA, railing against leaders and questions the ideas of protest (in a year when protest has become all too familiar), it also shows the intense side effects of NAFTA (a policy that a certain, often horribly-misguided and hate-fuelled US President is actually aiming to reform) therefore never resorting to a clear distinction between black and white.