FringeReview UK 2023
“Death is the most natural thing in the world.” Not to five—year-old Gracie, whose life of resistance as Gracie, Grace but mostly Graciela Jacob Marx Rice traces in A Brief List of Everyone Who Died. Yet again Finborough have mounted – and nurtured – a first-class work miles from larger fare that fades. Do rush to see it.
Written by Jacob Marx Rice. Directed by Alex Howarth, Set and Costume Designer Alice McNicholas, Lighting and Video Design Rachel Sampley
Stage Managers Lucie Liquor and Oleg Pupovac, Producer Amelia Campbell
ASM, Intimacy Co-ordinator, Dialect Coach
Till June 10th
“Death is the most natural thing in the world.” Not to five—year-old Gracie, whose life of resistance as Gracie, Grace but mostly Graciela Jacob Marx Rice traces in A Brief List of Everyone Who Died, which has its world premiere at the Finborough, directed by Alex Howarth.
“Natural doesn’t mean good.” Graciela at 40 counters. “Hurricanes are natural. Haemorrhoids are natural.” At give she accuses her parents: “You made my doggy dead.” She lost her cone-clad dog Buster at five, is surprisingly robust about the next pet at 18, but suddenly deaths snatch at classmates and worse. “Death should come by raven or something. Not a Yahoo inbox,” the budding 23-year-old lawyer snaps.
This production comes after a rehearsed reading in 2021, releasing a play of delicacy and power. Marx Rice’s five-hander play, with Vivia Font developing Graciela’s anti-death league stance over 80 years, is more than funny, poignant, and immensely humane. In 90 minutes it flickers – or as we’ll see Flickrs – through a full life lived against one natural thing, but not others. Font morphs from five-year-old candour, riding her father’s back, raging against the dying, through snappy callow teendom, squirming at13 to her mother Anne’s (Kathryn Akin, memorably warm) own confiding: “I liked him so much I thought parts of my body would fall off… then had to confess to Father Joseph for misusing my rosary.” Religion too threads its answers but Marx Rice lets it bleach out slowly.
Akin in her main role gently challenges Font’s paradoxical assertions, and with Cassie (Amelia Campbell) emerges not just as foil but loving inquisitor, the case for death’s – and life’s – defence. Though law in itself is tangential: we see Graciela’s relationships, nothing of her career but by report.
In the central role Font winningly draws out Graciela, conscious, clever but vulnerable holding to uber-bright childhood friend Jordan (Siphiwo Mahlentle) who suffers from depression. When they’re both eight, he explains to Gracie that slavery means “People made other people work for free and then hit them.” Marx Rice is particularly fine in showing how early assumptions and learning form a world view, till – sometimes – challenged. Mahlentle as Jordan and later son Melaku traces one character from strength to dark and the son from wonder to quiet authority; where turtles and diplodoci tread.
As (mainly) father Raul, Alejandro de Mesa enjoys gently demurring and false memory syndrome “I taught you Spanish” he asserts when part of the platy returns to his thinking bilingual is less socially mobile. As the play moves chronologically, Campbell’s Cassie takes on Graciela’s furious stabs against mortality, showing herself often wiser, even if she does terrify her partner with a car-crash, provoking a memorable fright from Graciela about the fate of Cassie and their son Melaku. Campbell’s warmth and calm shows just the kind of person Graciela reaches out to, after early relations, randomly adopted in childhood, show their terror.
Each moment of loss provokes an allied local crisis, sometimes revisited in animals, patterning Garciela’s experience. Towards the end and rather like Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, ages are telegraphed in one-liners with occasionally eddies, accelerating a calendrical moment with a particular disease. But is asserts a wry wit, a kind of acceptance. The line “My death. My rules” is uttered twice, very differently.
There’s evocative singing too from each and nearly all the cast at crucial points, adding a layer of something shared, communally alive.
Whilst later years are telegraphed and whilst such a play can’t induce the paths of a deeply-wrought study, it packs so much in that its characters stay with you long afterwards. This is in every way a gem. Script, acting and direction. Yet again Finborough have mounted – and nurtured – a first-class work miles from larger fare that fades.
The Finborough’s diminutive space allows set and costume designer Alice McNicholas some deft touches: a gauze screen people move to when dying, a simple use of chairs. It’s Rachel Sampley’s lighting and video design that really tell: light bulbs glowing when someone dies. And that Flickr moment, where projections of a whole life concentrate on photos of young children, as if everything’s in question and potential. Do rush to see it.