Festival blogger Michelle Dee renews her acquaintance with Theatre Ad Infinitum at Heads Up.
Bucket List is an extraordinary tale set on the Mexico border which charts the untold repercussions of the NAFTA agreement; a government policy that opened up free trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Performed by one of the country’s leading lights – the multi-award winning Theatre Ad Infinitum – Bucket List exposes the devastating consequences that NAFTA had on the poorest Mexican communities. Working in assembly plants located on the border for corporate giants like Samsung, Toshiba, American Airlines and Unilever, employees faced systemic exploitation on a scale that is unimaginable in order to provide the western world with all the modern comforts it demands.
Twelve hour shifts in horrific working conditions, no breaks causing the workers bladder pain, and that’s just the start. These workers are systematically abused, raped and murdered if they speak out. The central character Milagros Cervantes sees her mother shot in the head while protesting against the state. In her hand she is clutching a blood-stained list upon which is written the names of the key figures who are responsible.
The performance style is technique rich, perfectly synchronised movement on the assembly line, character drawn out as much by movement as by dialogue. It’s a generational story, with the cast playing both adults and children. As a study into how children interact with each other the performance couldn’t be faulted. The tantrums, the beginning of learning about fair play, about friendship and loyalty, all tightly woven into the choreography.
The emotional intensity is spine tingling, the scenes between mother and daughter and later Mila and her best friend – who has become the latest play thing for a bent cop – are heart rending.
New characters are introduced by use of simple props, a change of outfit, for instance, such as hat or glasses and there’s some light relief in instantly recognisable accents. The take on Bill Clinton right at the start of the piece raises a laugh from the audience, as does the all puffed-up caricature Grand Master,strutting around the stage barking orders.
The connection between the ensemble, the timing, the different emotions and drama created from body movement alone is simply mesmerising. It is physical theatre on another level and because of the intensity and the energy on stage you find yourself immediately investing and responding to the characters. It could be described as a simpler form of theatre; all you need is to recognise a character trait, everything else is secondary as you know who that person and their world is from the way they move in the space.
Bucket List makes subtle use of the power of suggestion, allowing the audience to create the scene in their heads; less is quite often more. But there is nothing left to chance in the emotional outpourings and the feverish plotting that began in the children’s play and that the sheer desperation as fate threatens to eclipse all.
The set, well there isn’t one, but that’s not to say you can’t see the waste-ground where the children play, or the family home or the dreaded factory. There is musical accompaniment throughout; mournful woodwinds, a gently strummed guitar, and narrative singing that help explain the drama unfolding.
If you leave unmoved by Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Bucket List then you might as well give your bucket a kick right now.