A Brief List of Everyone Who Died (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: May 20, 2023 in Theatre

Writer: Jacob Marx Rice

Director: Alex Howarth


With no weddings and umpteen funerals, Jacob Marx Rice’s new play certainly lives up to its title, except perhaps for the brevity of the list. It is often said that Shakespeare’s tragedies can be summed up with the words “they all die”, but Marx Rice strives to outdo Hamlet and Macbeth combined.

The play addresses how we deal with mortality, both our own and that of those around us. Grace (Vivia Font) struggles with it first when she is four years old in 1983 and her dog Buster dies. She blames her parents (Alejandro De Mesa and Kathryn Akin) for not allowing her to say goodbye. She grows and forms a close platonic friendship with Jordan (Siphiwo Mahlentle), who suffers from depression and is prone to suicide attempts. Later, she enters into a romantic partnership with Cass (Amelia Campbell), they adopt a son, Melaku (Mahlentle again) and the circle of life and death goes on.

Spanning more than eight decades of loss and renewal, the play is broken down into shortish scenes, each of which is built around the death of a person or a family pet. When every new scene begins, we ask who is for the chop this time, making the play feel repetitive and predictable. It is this lumbering structure that does more than anything else to undermine the writer’s worthy ambitions.

Marx Rice is a New Yorker and the play’s setting is Irish America. Accordingly, the actors assume American accents and it feels that the dialogue would not have sounded right if spoken in any other way. A mix of homespun philosophy and syrupy sentimentality gives the drama a distinctively American feel, its tone bringing reminders of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. At times, it is almost as if James Stewart could be about to walk in through the door.

For all its gloom, Marx Rice’s script is not bereft of humour and director Alex Howarth applies a light touch to break up the solemnity. Making imaginative use of the Finborough Theatre’s intimate space, his production is particularly notable for the committed and versatile performances of the five actors, who move between ages and emotions with great comfort.

There is no shortage of ideas in this play and often the writer expresses them beautifully. However, they need to be knocked into better shape and packaged with more precision. As the play approaches the end of its 90-minute running time, it seems fair to believe that it has not been brief enough.

Performance date: 18 May 2023

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