It’s fitting that Paul Miller, Artistic Director at the Orange Tree Theatre, should end his first season with a piece of new writing. The success of Pomona, Little Light and The Distance (for example) have all contributed to an eye-opening season for the theatre. buckets follows suit.
The first full-length play from writer Adam Barnard, buckets is quite the philosophical thinkpiece. His subject: death. The internet is filled with bucket lists – 100 Things To Do Before You Die etc – but if our lives can be considered buckets in which to pour experience, how best to fill them?
For such a grand and serious subject, Barnard takes a light-hearted approach that plays with form, tone and our expectations. As if looking through a prism, buckets consists of thirty-three short, separate yet thematically-connected scenes that explore life and death from multiple angles, some more weighty than others. Some are just a handful of lines; others more fully-fledged scenes. Further, the script isn’t divided into individual characters but presented as simple text – it’s down to the interpretation of the director and cast to delineate lines and suggest characterisation. Yet whether we’re watching a popstar visiting a terminally ill patient, a girl contemplating suicide or a metaphorical comparison between life and the video game Minecraft, Barnard’s quirky and modern script ensures that throughout this is warm, funny, endearing and moving in equal measure. Eventually he pushes the boundaries into fantasy: in one scene entitled Terms And Conditions, the play veers into science-fiction in its loftiest and most challenging moment.
This is, then, a highly conceptual piece. To that end, director Rania Jumaily has done a wonderfully creative job of bringing the text to life. She plays with our expectations for both profound and comic effect, with actors playing roles not specific to their gender or age. The staging is necessarily simple, almost a workshop style, but an excellent ensemble performance sees the cast create a whole series of relatable and sympathetic human characters that transcend their metaphorical purpose.
Indeed the play itself is something of a metaphor. Divided into a series of moments, memories even, it constantly delivers the unexpected. It's not always a success, but its exploration of some deep questions is more than the sum of its fragmented parts. It is life-affirming and upbeat, thought-provoking and moving. Watching it should definitely be on your theatre bucket list.
Watch: buckets runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 27th June.
Images: Robert Day