Whose Life Is It Anyway – Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until June 11
Review by Peter McGarry
DEATH or indignity? The question hinges on whether man has the right to decide his own destiny when others are sworn to uphold his life.
Incredibly, although it is more than 40 years since Brian Clark’s play first pinpointed the issue, it remains heart-breakingly relevant today.
A second, and equally important, question raised is whether a wish to die should be linked to insanity. The play’s central character, paralysed from the neck down after a car accident, finds himself pitted from his hospital bed against what he calls the “optimism industry”.
It’s a remarkable work and a huge challenge to stage, but Rod Wilkinson’s production leaps mighty hurdles to achieve the warmth and humour as well as the tragedy underlying the story.
Two stunning performances pave the way for an unforgettable evening. Pete Gillam, bed-bound throughout, achieves a portrayal of great sensitivity as Harrison the patient, alternating abrasive humour with moments of despairing anger, most effectively realised when he verbally savages an inoffensive woman social worker.
It’s a fine, penetrating piece of work, as is Sandy Robertson’s acute study of the head physician who is, in reality, Harrison’s nemesis, rigidly following the dogma of life preservation at all costs. There is also an underlying fragility to this figure as the long-held principles of his work are thrown into doubt.
While the play’s overall premise stands fast, dialogue is updated in places to presereve its relevance to today. On a crisp, sharply-lit set, movement around our paralysed hero is brisk and naturalistic and there is strong conviction in supporting performances by Andy Bayliss as a so-typical solicitor and Chris Ives, Christine Carpenter and Julie Godfrey as medical staff.
Clark’s writing does occasionally resort to cliche in depicting minor relationships and this production’s only weakness lies in a final hospital courtroom sequence which lacks the essential realism of the rest.
But the play’s consummate strength remains intact.
Visit www.talismantheatre.co.uk or call 01926 856548.