Theatre review: Lists For The End Of The World

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: As we wait for the theatre to open, we are handed pencil and paper and asked to make a list.

The audience's favourite childhood toys get an airing in fanSHEN's list-based variety show.
The audience's favourite childhood toys get an airing in fanSHEN's list-based variety show.

Summerhall (Venue 26)


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Today’s topic is “Favourite childhood toys”. This is one of the major ways that ­theatre company ­fanSHEN ­collect material for their show, which is entirely created from crowd-sourced lists.

Lists are everywhere in today’s culture. Books list places to see before we die, websites use listicles as a ­substitute for journalism. FanSHEN draw out the more whimsical tendencies of list-making to create their show, which contains a mixture of scripted content and improvised material which is new each time it is performed.

The first secret to ­making a show from lists is to choose sufficiently quirky ­topics which will elicit funny, poignant, personal ansers: “Questions I’m afraid to ask my ­parents”; “Places I’d hide a body”; “People I like more than they like me”; “Things I’d do if I knew no one would find out” (run my neighbour over, join the LibDems); “Things I inherited from my mum” (costume jewellery, Thomas Hardy novels, anxiety).

The three performers, Clare Dunn, Shireen Mala and Delme Thomas, who helped to make the show along with directors Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe, deliver the material expressively, whether registering sympathy, surprise or, occasionally, confusion. That said, lists are not inherently theatrical, and they work hard to vary the presentation style, including a bit of improvised song and dance and a quiz for the ­audience.

The result is something approaching a list-based variety show, which rarely strikes a wrong note but does not always flow easily from one item to the next. With such rich material, it would be worth exploring the possibility of a greater narrative arc.

Until 27 August. Today 1:45pm.