Buckets is a play about making the most of time, and dealing with the fact that one day we’re all going to run out of it. What’s great about Adam Barnard’s script is that it’s an antidote recipe for both of these dilemmas, and you already have everything you need to make it.
The 80 minute setup is arranged into a sequence of 33 episodes. The actors multi-role throughout, playing a patchwork quilt of personalities. Many are dealing directly with the obvious time pressures of imminent death, some with life’s big questions, but often equally as affecting are the everyday moments: a scene in which a girl badgers her Minecraft-wired friend with existential questions is a well-paced wry comment on the hours we burn button-bashing.
The ensemble of six fine actors do take a few scenes to settle and warm up, but they certainly build momentum over time. Director Rania Jumaily, also the Orange Tree’s resident director, does well to balance impressive company work and affable chemistry while allowing each actor their time in the sun. Sarah Malin deftly handles roles as a dissatisfied teenager and then conversely the mother of a mute; Tom Gill has the audience in his palm as an Eminem superfan; Rona Morison, as a bed-bound Make a Wish participant delivers some serious hairdryer treatment to an unsuspecting Styles/Bieber type over two-thirds of a page in all but one breath.
Many lines are cut short, pulling up before risking a cliché. It requires serious control over pace to keep up a hefty stream of interruptions, and the greater degree of success in the second half makes me think that the toil necessary to achieve orchestral precision is there. Even better, the episodes fit and flow with a mismatch of tones that is so well directed that it works. This allows for lengthy emotional scenes to be followed by curt one liners, and for an extended scene on the brink of suicide to balance perfectly between fully blown exit music and blackest gallows humour. The company are consistently able to harness the comic potential in Barnard’s script, stretching at points into the truly surreal when an a cappella choir are wheeled on and off.
It’s a piece about being satisfied without standing still; appreciating without being hindered by nostalgia; dreaming while living in the moment. It’s so impressive to build an experience that can change so sharply in tone from one second to the next and carry the audience throughout. What makes buckets so worthwhile though is its humanity both in portrayal and intent. It makes you look anew at life as a gift, exactly as it is.
Buckets is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 27 June. For tickets and more information, see the Orange Tree Theatre website. Photo by Robert Day.