The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Brief History Of Everyone Who Died
Finborough Theatre online Summer 2021
nothing particularly special about Jacob Marx Rice's new play, but an
inventive and sensitive online production brings out all that there is,
making for a pleasant and sometimes moving 75 minutes of drama.
direction of Alex Howarth, this is one of the most successful examples
I've seen of the newly-born art form of Zoom theatre, with the actors in
separate windows (and probably in their separate homes).
While you never
really get the illusion of them being in the same room together – it's
more like a string of online conversations – Howarth's actors relate to
each other and create the sense of actual interaction in effective and
The backbone of
the play is the life of Gracie, from age 5 to 83, seen in a string of
short conversations with family and friends. The recurring theme, as the
title suggests, is death.
Gracie simply refuses to process the news that her dog is gone forever,
thirteen-year-old Gracie shows how grown-up she is by bravely looking
into her grandfather's coffin. At 18 she is so wrapped up in the
excitement of student life that another dog's death hardly registers,
but at 23 she is shaken by the first death of someone her age.
At 30 her best
friend kills himself, at 37 she has to help her son deal with the death
of his pet, and by her sixties and seventies her conversations are
reduced to a growing catalogue of departed contemporaries. The play ends
– no spoiler alert needed here – with her own resigned (and heavily
drugged) last days in a hospice.
Along the way
we encounter her parents, friends, partner, child and grandchild, with
several actors in the cast smoothly doubling roles as one generation is
replaced by another.
And what does
it all have to say? Not a lot, beyond the observation that death is a
part of life and we react to it differently at different ages. But it
says it well.
Much of the
credit must go to Vivia Font, who not only makes both the precocious
child and the exhausted octogenarian – and everyone in between –
believable but also keeps Gracie sympathetic even when the play
occasionally slips into an it's-all-about-me focus that makes her
reaction to, for example, a friend's suicide more significant than his
The rest of the
characters are largely conceived of as feeds and foils to Gracie and
given little opportunity to develop, but the supporting cast serve the
play generously, with particular contributions from Raphael Bushay as
both the suicidal friend and the well-balanced son, and Gemma Barnett as
the never-wavering partner.
And again much of the credit must go to director Howarth for guiding the cast to instant characterisations and a sense of a shared reality uniting the separate Zoom windows.
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