Buckets, theatre review: a witty take on mortality ticks the right boxes

The new play at the Orange Tree in Richmond

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Buckets, as in bucket lists – those inventories of things we want to do before we die. Adam Barnard’s kaleidoscopic, darkly playful and witty piece muses on our human awareness that time is always running out in a series of some 30-odd, interconnected scenes that range from the absurdist and fantastical to sudden jabs of painfully direct feeling.

In Rania Jumaily’s very well-judged production, it’s performed by attractive, barefoot cast who are in complete control of all the tricky switches of tone, with James Turner’s spare design suggesting an apposite mix of playground, party and graveyard.

To make a bucket list, you have to grasp the concept of mortality – which is why recent press reports (replete with Instagram photographs) about the man who is taking his dying dog “on a bucket list road trip of the US” have somewhat confused the issue by sentimentally blurring  this point.

Some of the sharpest vignettes in buckets deal with terminally ill children and teenagers. There’s the editor who wants to turn a journalist’s serious article into pseudo-redemptive click-bait: “Ten Things I Learnt from a Dying Girl – Number 7 Will Change Your Life”. There’s the furious, smart teenager who turns the tables on a smug visiting pop star (“I’m so honoured that you asked me here. I mean most people want to swim with dolphins, right?”) with a nifty bit of blackmail.

Some of the sketches feel protracted and obvious. The idea that our existence is handled by a bureaucracy, “Living Vessels Incorporated” whose officials can tell you at the start, should you wish, the length of your “battery life”, outstays its welcome, though Jon Foster is very funny as he vacillates over whether it would be an advantage to know.

But the a cappella singing of the community choir is kooky to just the right degree and it’s a great tribute to Paul Miller’s ground-breaking first season at the Orange Tree, which this show rounds off, that the majority of the audience at the performance I attended looked to be under 25.

To 27 June (020 8940 3633)