14/08/2017 07:22 BST | Updated 14/08/2017 07:22 BST

How Lists Can Make Us Feel Less Alone In The World

I like lists. I write a lot of them, mostly "to do" lists, but one day I was in a foul mood and rather than wreck the day of everyone around me, I decided to write a list of all the things that were making me angry. A couple of days later, I was looking for something in my notebook, and came across Things I'm tired of and a list. I'd included social injustices and world conflicts next to things like "my haircut" and "winter vegetables". It was funny and ridiculous and quite pathetic - a bit like life, I thought.

Because I'm a theatre-maker, I started wondering if it would be possible to make a show out of lists. Two years on, my company fanSHEN is about to premiere Lists For The End Of The World, a theatre show composed entirely from crowdsourced lists. For a project that started with something so simple, it has taken us on an enormous journey - one of falling in love with the idiosyncrasies, passions and misfortunes of over 250 people we "met" through their response to a list title, everything from Times my 8 year old self would be proud of me to Places I would hide a body, shared on social media or as part of an installation.


(Creative commons image: Ana Campos/flickr)

It's remarkable what you can get from a list: its succinctness means it is so often like a story where you fill in the gaps. Responses to Things I inherited from my mum are sideways portraits, full of love but also unafraid to acknowledge their subject's less attractive qualities.

Things I inherited from my mum:

the inability to stop

her hair

her fear of death

her anxiety

her need to be seen

her obsession with the female body as representative of female value

her f*cked up gender roles

her optimism

her curiousity / sense of adventure

her loneliness


Just from reading this list, you get a sense of the trickiness of that relationship, of its simultaneous affection and total infuriation. The other fantastic thing about the format is that the person making the list need only share what they want - and sometimes it's omissions that speak louder than what's written. One person responded to Things I inherited from my mum with the single item: "My dad".

The answers to some lists vary hugely. We've tried really hard to make the show a reflection of people across the UK, rather than just our friends. So for example, the list Times I felt free has quite a lot of answers that a typical liberal theatre audience might give - things about traveling, swimming, having just passed an important exam. But there are also different voices - like a young man from Stockton: "when I passed my army selection". For a lot of people that's the antithesis of free, but for him, it was opportunity, a ticket out of a place that held little hope for him.

For other lists, like Things that keep me awake at night, the responses were similar wherever we went. Within the show it's the only list that repeats; we wanted to give a sense of all these people, lying awake at 3am and feeling alone, but unknowingly linked to each other by thoughts of spiders in the room, guilt, money and the unwelcome noises of neighbours, flatmates or amorous foxes.


Lists For The End of The World (Image: Christ Auld)

For a lot of people, those dead of night anxieties can be overwhelming. I'd like to think that after seeing the show, you might think about the rest of your street and remember that there's probably at least another five people having almost the same experience as you. One of the take-homes from reading all the lists is just that: that the thing which you think makes you weird or insufficient in some way is true of a huge amount of other people too. It sounds cheesy but in some ways, the lists put things into perspective.

One of the list titles I like most is Things I pretend to be interested in. Responses ranged from the justifiably predictable - politics, other people's weddings, tennis ("just interested in Roger Federer really") - to the equally true but less obvious - the directions people give me when I ask for the way. My other favourite responses on that list are "the needs of customers" (one for anyone who ever worked/suffered in retail) and the ominous "Hilary's problems"; I have no idea who Hilary is but I'm sure that we all know someone like her.

There are some mildly scandalous insights too. The list title Things I would do if I knew no one would ever find out invites visions of (un?)healthy amounts of theft, gluttony and low-level violence (often directed at politicians). Running people over is also a popular option - often neighbours, so do take care if you see Jane next door giving you dirty looks over the steering wheel of her Volvo. There's also imaginings of solo and collaborative sex in prominent public locations, an orgy with the people at number 24 and the memorable contribution "Love my cat a little more than I should do". Who knew there'd be a market for an amalgamation of the internet's biggest loves? Things I didn't know before we started this project...

Lists For The End Of The World is on until August 27 (not 14,21) at Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe. Tickets available on