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 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.

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Died
Finborough Theatre online   Summer 2021

There is 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.

Under the 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 affecting ways.

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.

Five-year-old 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 pain.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz
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Review of  A Brief History Of Everyone Who Died - Finborough Theatre online 2021