Uma Thurman’s starring role in Kill Bill clearly provides inspiration for the latter part of Nir Paldi’s Bucket List – a hit-list for daughter Milagros (Tamsin Clarke) to use when hunting down those indirectly responsible for killing her mother Maria (Deborah Pugh). Paldi’s show however is much more a story of two halves, the first half being a tale of Mila’s upbringing in Mexican slums amidst corruption, violence and abject poverty. Bill Clinton’s implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) seems to have most affected the poorest in Northern Mexico. Such an agreement with the ideal of increasing trade and creating a positive economic impact only works if those in power aren’t corrupt enough to keep the gains for themselves.
Bucket List humanises a powerful political decision by focusing on an immediately friendly and likeable girl. Whether it be Mila, cousin Vere (Orian Michaeli) and friends, or American aid worker Jenny (Pugh), the whole production overflows with joy, laughter and comedy – all the more powerful when juxtaposed with the attention-grabbing moments that fill the room with sadness, fear and terror. The first half of this 90-minute one-act play exudes a feeling of helplessness and empathy for those growing up in an environment that they are neither willing to change, nor capable of doing anything about even if they tried. Make a complaint; stage a protest; voice a concern, every turn leads to the same destination – an ugly and untimely death. Complain about being raped by your boss like Aunty Teresa (Charlotte Dubery)? Decapitation. Stand against the corporate suits that pollute your river and chemically poison your children like Mother Maria (Pugh)? Shot in the head. It’s no wonder that teenage girl Vere (Michaeli) is so set against reporting the police officer for repeatedly raping her, given the outcome of her elders. A maelstrom of brutality that designer Max Johns subtly contrasts with the Disney princess T-shirts that all the children wear.
Mila is the light in the dark – Clarke’s performance is gutsy and heartfelt, watching the hurt around her and desperate to effect a change. The somewhat desperate decision to kill all those responsible is a fairly fantastical plot twist by Paldi, one that ultimately devalues the truth in the earlier portion of the play by turning it into a Quentin Tarantino world of make-believe, poison dart frogs and death by chess piece. Regardless of the faults in the second half of the script, there is a high production value that seamlessly permeates throughout the performance. Amy Nostbakken’s composition effortlessly sets each scene, adding comic touches by exceptionally expressive singer Shamira Turner whilst also creating the appropriate atmosphere to fuse the hilarious with the horrific. George Mann’s distinctive choreography becomes synonymous with the situation that Mila finds herself in, as she leaps from passive observer to active assassin, from hallucination to flashback to reality.
Ultimately Paldi creates an anti-fairy tale. As in life, there is no happy ending – one single person with a wish and a moral compass is simply not enough to change the world. But what else is there to do but keep trying, hoping that those with the power will eventually listen?
Bucket List is playing Battersea Arts Centre until March 4.
Photo: Alex Brenner