Composing an entire show around a series of lists is well-trodden territory, and unfortunately Fanshen Theatre’s Lists for the End of the World just doesn’t take the premise to new or innovative places.
Perhaps what intrigued me most about Lists for the End of the World was the fact its premise – composing a show entirely around a series of carefully structured lists and bullet-points – is well-trodden territory to even the casual live art fan. Forced Entertainment, Ursula Martinez, Action Hero and lots of artists have undoubtedly been playing in that space for years, and even my coursemates and I experimented with the premise as part of the 1st year syllabus back at Warwick.
I was therefore interested to understand how Lists for the End of the World would differentiate itself from the canon of work that has come before it. One would hope it’d be differentiated through innovation; by pushing its premise to unexplored depths and – in doing so – reaching new or developed conclusions. Unfortunately, though, the unique selling point of Lists just never really seems to materialise – and you’re left watching quite a thin and offensively inoffensive (if that oxymoron makes sense to anyone other than me) piece that doesn’t really tell your average Summerhall audience member anything new.
The show starts on a slightly strange note: the three performers don’t make much effort at all to assert the authenticity of the ‘crowd-sourced’ lists they’re utilising. When they begin reading off pieces of paper, everything quickly sounds a little too twee and dramatically ‘perfect’ to be the authentic lists of real volunteer; you’re left to your own devices to assume they’ve come up with lots/most of the contributions themselves in the rehearsal room. The well-trodden structural device of entwining mundane and humorous entires with more ‘profound’ ones (for dramatic effect) is a clear favourite of theirs – but it quickly gets quite tedious, and feels a little A Level (particularly when it’s used as much as is here).
The titles of the lists themselves are also somewhat on the trite side: ‘things I want to do before I die’, ‘things I regret not asking my parents’ and ‘things that I’m afraid of’ all feature. The responses to such questions, and the orders we’re fed them, are nice enough to listen to for about 15 minutes but you then feel you’ve got the general message. The show seems to realise its (almost) monotony after a while, proceeding to mix up the staging of some sections. Performers sing lines over a Westlife karaoke backing track, alternate between different lists or deliver them from the auditorium. It all feels quite superficial though – deep-down, the content and devising strategies continue to be what they always were.
This is the first Edinburgh show that I’ve scrutinised to this degree this year, but I just struggle to understand how its makers conceive Lists for the End of the World to be unique and building on – rather than merely repeating – insights other companies (who’ve utilised lists) have achieved. The piece is performed with what seems to be a fairly deliberate smugness (particularly from the two female performers), which’d seem to suggest they’re unaware their idea has been executed slightly more successfully before. That just makes me feel they haven’t done adequate research before the devising process, which is slightly unforgivable.
You leave expecting to receive a Kinder Egg (because they seed it halfway through the show), but are given a little cardboard box with a message that thinks it’s a bit more sentimental than it is. I sort of feel that’s a apt metaphor for the overall experience. I was hoping for something I’d never experienced before. (I haven’t had a Kinder Egg in 15 years…I can barely remember what one tastes like). I unfortunately left with something which had disintegrated in my pocket well before the day was over.