Mexico: fiestas, salsa dancing in the street, big sombreros, jolly Mariachi bands, tasty enchilladas. Rewind. Mexico: women working 12-hour shifts in factories making parts for iPhones, fighting off the headache they get from not drinking water, because if they drink they need to pee, and if they leave their work station they are sacked. Police officers who pull 14-year-old girls into their police cars and take them to the woods to rape them. Mayors and company CEOs who claim to be saving the planet when in fact their actions are causing the local river to be so polluted that when a boy falls in trying to retrieve his football, he dies of arsenic poisoning 12 hours later.
Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Bucket List is a beautiful, harrowing, thought-provoking piece of work: a hard-hitting socio-political drama about Mexican (and world) corruption and contamination, delivered by an all-female international ensemble whose physical acting skills are superb. And there’s great live music too!
Inspiration for the show came from Mexican performer and co-devisor Vicky Araico Casas, who Ad Infintum’s Nir Paldi mentored and directed in her solo work, Juana in a Million. For both of them, one show was obviously not enough… There is more to be said about Mexico.
Bucket List – the company’s eighth show, which follows on from previous successes Translunar Paradise, The Ballad of the Burning Star, and Light – is written and directed by Paldi; he and co-director George Mann alternating roles of director and dramaturg on each new production. As is their usual practice, inspired by their training with Jacques Lecoq, the show has been co-created with the ensemble, which includes aforementioned Vicky Araico Casas as the protagonist Mila, and the company’s associate artist/musical director Amy Nostbakken, who gives an astonishing and brilliant performance as The Man, morphing from corrupt cop, to mayor, to company CEO, to president of Mexico, to Bill Clinton himself – instigator of the notorious North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTE) that has proved to be the cause of so many problems for working-class Mexicans. These transformations of character are made elegantly and beautifully with a shift in body stance changing her instantly from one to the other, the donning of a cap or sash, or the clever and humorous use of props such as a moustache on a stick, adding weight to the transformation.
Also in the ensemble are other familiar faces, including Deborah Pugh, who has appeared in all of the company’s past four shows, giving a dynamic and vibrant performance as both Mila’s mother, and as her youth leader and mentor Jennifer, who encourages her to improve her chess game, with the carrot dangled of a trip to America. But all of the ensemble are superb, swapping roles with ease, forming a physical chorus to support whichever character is the lead in any given scene.
So many lovely things in this show to flag up: a great use of recurring movement motifs: for example, a choreography of factory women’s gestures with the hands; and the way tiny snatches of salsa dancing are used as a throughout. Chess is the central metaphor of the piece, as Mila seeks (or fantasises about seeking – the line between the real and the imagined is deliberately blurry) her revenge on the men who have ruined the lives of her relatives and friends, finding parallels between her chess tactics and what she feels needs to do out their in world. The show appears to have a linear narrative at the start, but the pattern of foreshadowing and flashback comes in early. Harrowing moments in the story are replayed in a pattern of intense repetition.
The scenography is simple but beautifully effective. A kind of abbattoir cum hospital operating room plastic strip-curtain at the rear; podiums for the two musicians on either side of the curtain/backdrop; and a good lighting design. It’s quite enough: the play resides, for the most part, in the bodies of the performers.
The tussle between fantasy and reality is dealt with very effectively. As time runs out for Mila, her imagined solutions to her need for revenge become more and more ludicrous and fantastical. As the play ends, there is a sting in the tail. We are not let off lightly; we are not allowed to leave the theatre revelling in her revenge. There is a torch that we must carry for her, if Mila can’t carry it herself…
Featured image by Alex Brenner.
Theatre Ad Infinitum: Bucket List is at PLeasance Dome, 3-29 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2016.
For further information or bookings, see www.edfringe.com