Bucket List, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the US and Mexico came into effect on 1 January, 1994. I was eleven years old. The agreement ushered in a degree of national prosperity for all three countries, but Mexico’s low minimum wage, lax environmental regulations and corrupt officials made a perfect storm for sweatshop conditions in the US-owned factories (maquiladoras) taking advantage of the exchange rate and unemployment in Mexican border towns. The maquiladora owners favoured female workers for their diligence and precision and employed girls as young as fourteen, who were better suited for working 12-hour days in harsh environments than older women or clumsy men. These girls, only a few years older than me, were assembling electronics and convenience items out of toxic materials for 39 cents an hour.

I’m American. Though I hide it well with a deliberately constructed accent and uniquely British habits and mannerisms that I’ve developed in the nearly twelve years that I’ve lived here, I still have the passport, the cultural history and the guilt to prove it. Normally that guilt is shaped like guns, healthcare or Trump, but it occasionally takes on other forms. This time it’s privilege. That privilege/guilt pours down my cheeks in hot, angry tears during Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Bucket List. The story of the women and girls’ lives dictated by the maquiladoras, some as young as me, is a horrifying contrast to the suburban middle-class upbringing I had, kept busy with school and music lessons and theatre rehearsals and ambitions. I may have had something that these girls made, some frivolous object bought without thinking in order to make my life easier or better, and I was totally oblivious to their hardship. I did not have to worry about my mother being killed for protesting the maquiladoras’ pollution, or about my auntie being raped by her manager, or getting cancer from the chemicals I encountered on a daily basis.

But for the women and girls in Bucket List, that is their life. The all-female, international cast, directed by Nir Paldi, devised a magical realism story of these desperate factory towns based on an idea from Mexican company member Vicky Araico Casas. Incorporating George Mann’s distinctive choreography and live music, Bucket List tells the story of Milagros (played by Casas), a girl growing up in one of these towns dominated by maquiladoras. Her generation’s experiences and those of her mother’s interweave, creating a landscape of labour, political protests, coming of age and revenge. It is a dense story covering a decade of these women’s lives, but Paldi’s script is easy to follow. Magical realism creeps in stealthily, and only at the end of the performance do certain events seem untenable and raise the question of whether or not they actually happened. Regardless of this fuzzy line between reality and fantasy, Bucket List is an anthem of strength that roars with political agenda and gives voice to the disregarded victims of developed nations.

Initially more of a montage of life experiences, Milagros’ story slowly begins to emerge. This could shift slightly earlier in the piece, but the exposition at the beginning gives wider context and does not feel extraneous. Paldi maintains a careful balance of these women’s lives and a wider, North American political picture that slightly tips in favour of the women, but there is enough of the outside world’s oppression and token assistance to inspire the characters’ rage and passion. Milagros’ tragic end adds fuel to the production’s fury against exploitation that comes out as a roar rather than a whimper.

There is hardly any set and technology on display, a dramatic change from their last adult show, Light. Instead, costume plays a bright but subtle role in the story – the five women playing the girls and their family wear coloured t-shirts with cartoon characters often idealised by young girls. Disney princesses, Batgirl and Alice in Wonderland offer them an American-created fantasy that they can strive for but will most certainly never achieve.

Juxtaposed against these pastel tops are quite vicious games demonising the powerful politicians and corporations that shape their lives. They also mock their working conditions, daily violence at the hands of men and threats to their lives. Milagros’ mother (Deborah Pugh) is a vocal political protester, demonstrating a ferocity also contrasting her character’s clothing. The excellent live score by Amy Nostbakken is more of a direct expression of the fighting spirit and sadness within these women.

Though a text-driven piece, Mann uses a series of motifs that soon become recognisable, indicating specific actions and locations. They enhance the understanding and often act as a substitute for words. Though used regularly, Mann’s choreography is one of the company’s trademarks and is unfortunately underused, especially considering the lack of set.

Even though NAFTA is over twenty years old, the maquiladoras are still there, employing women for long hours, polluting local rivers and creating environments ripe for exploitation. Paldi’s script aggressively demands awareness which may be unpalatable to some, but should be required viewing for every American blissfully unaware of their brothers and sisters across the border that are so often looked down upon with racist disgust. Bucket List is truly vital theatre in our age of disposable, thoughtless consumerism.

Bucket List runs through 29th August.

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Town Hall Cherubs, Battersea Arts Centre

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Dear Town Hall Cherubs,

I know we only met yesterday afternoon but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since then. Concentrating at work today has been really hard – I couldn’t wait to leave so I could pen this missive, and I’ve been fighting the tiredness that comes with broken sleep filled with golden apples, inflatable little friends, snow and glitter. I’m off somewhere else tonight, but I’m still smiling at the memories of your gentle journey of discovery around Battersea Arts Centre. I’d love to keep you all to myself, but your warm, generous nature shouldn’t be caged, nor is it fair of me to prevent others, young and old, from experiencing the wonderful joy you evoke. So here’s a review for you to share with families far and wide:

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

The first generation of immersive theatre fans are growing up. The twenty-somethings who discovered Punchdrunk in their early days are 30-somethings. Now immersed in nappies and temper tantrums as well as non-traditional theatre, these new parents will have high expectations of children’s theatre. Pros arch, run-of-the-mill theatre isn’t enough for them, or their progeny. Fortunately, that first wave of immersive theatre makers is also starting families of their own. Merging interactive, immersive and promenade theatre to create a site-specific adventure for 2-5 year olds, Theatre Ad Infinitum and Sarah Golding from Battersea Arts Centre team up to create children’s show Town Hall Cherubs, a winter adventure that brings the building’s distinctive architecture to life among a landscape of sensory-focused design elements.

Dani (Danielle Marshall) gently rallies a group of children, parents and early years teachers in a cozy corner next to the BAC’s grand staircase. Soothing music and colouring in a drawing of a cherub warms the children to her before they head up the stairs to a discovery on the landing. They find a cherub (joyful and wide eyed Barra Collins) and a fabric garland that continues their music-accompanied journey through several rooms; each contains interactive, sturdy set and design. My favourite is a room full of “little friends”, inflatable blobs by Amy Pennington that the children can dance and climb cardboard mounts with, roll, cuddle and any other imaginative play they can create. The children also discover a giant kaleidoscope by Ted Barnes and Amy Pitt, and a replica of the BAC staircase that Deborah Pugh brings to life as Sarah, a dragon-seahorse creature that’s scared of falling down.

Though the kids won’t notice or care, the moral tacked onto the end feels unnecessarily teacher-y, and Cherub’s plan to go on an adventure and then return home could have been clearer at the beginning. These tiny potential improvements certainly don’t detract from the quiet, calming joy of the event.

This isn’t a high energy, raucous performance. It’s intimate, gentle and encouraging with the pace dictated by the group. As an adult without a child there, it was a joy to observe the children’s reactions to their discoveries and freedom to engage with their new surroundings without fear. It’s a powerful reminder to notice the tiny details around us and enjoy the pleasure of experiencing something new beyond our regular routines.

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Thank you again, Town Hall Cherubs, for having me along on your gorgeous little adventure.


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Light, for everything theatre

“…At the start of the show, an announcement warns us that the ushers will be watching us at all times should we have any trouble with flashing lights. This announcement, whilst concerned with health and safety on the surface, suitably forecasts the world of the play where the government monitors the thoughts of every citizen.

…Light is inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations of government spying. It gives us a world where technology is king and the government supposedly keeps us safe from terrorism. The story follows Agent Dearden in a world where speech is redundant, as every human being has an implant that allows him or her to transmit thoughts directly to the receiver’s brain…

“Whilst the story itself is typical example dystopian Big Brother fare, it balances a wider worldview with an intimate portrayal of one family. What makes this production truly compelling and unlike anything I have ever seen is its use of light and sound…The actors use precise and detailed movements to indicate character, and location, often appearing to manipulate the beams of light…Surtitles, rather than speech, contribute to the lighting element and add character and plot information, though this is used only when absolutely necessary.

“This production is part of the London International Mime Festival for a short time and then goes on tour nationwide. To experience innovative theatre that takes the art form to new heights, see this show.”

Intention: ☆☆☆☆☆

Outcome: ☆☆☆☆☆

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Read the entire review on everything theatre: http://everything-theatre.co.uk/2015/01/light-the-pit-at-the-barbican-review.html