Review – Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Nov 11 2009 | By More


Church Hill Theatre: Wed 11 – Sat 14 Nov 2009
Review by Thom Dibdin

SURPRISINGLY hilarious in its opening scenes, Leitheatre’s take on Brain Clark’s right-to-die drama succeeds in finding an emotional core, but is still swamped by dialogue which spends too long rehearsing the arguments.

At the centre of the debate is Ken Harrison, six months on from an accident which paralysed him from the neck down – and stuck in hospital with no hope of an independent life.

Michael Ferguson makes Harrison an all-too human character – exchanging banter with the ward sister, making inappropriate advances to the young nurses and passing accurately cynical comments on the hospital hierarchy to the intelligent and sensitive Dr Scott.

It’s a tough call for Ferguson to create much of a character, lying prone as he is for the whole play. Unsuccessful use of various humorous accents apart, he brings out the gallows humour of such situations and conveys the fact of a lively mind, stuck in a body which would die if it weren’t attached to machines.

Which is precisely Harrison’s point. Quite lucidly and calmly, he has come to the conclusion that he doesn’t want the machines to keep him alive any more.

He’s said goodbye to his parents, dumped his fiance and now wants the well-meaning doctors to let nature take its course.

Except that Billy Renfrew’s bullying consultant, Dr Emerson, sees it as breaking his Hippocratic oath – and would rather stuff Harrison full of Valium so he can’t even think, let alone make a decision.

The various female care workers surrounding Harrison all put in reasonably strong performances. Alison Kennedy is particularly fine as Sister Anderson, ruling her ward with a rod of iron, Lesley Paul a nicely mouse-like student nurse and Regina Alcock strong yet vulnerable as Dr Scott. Jennie Davidson puts in a great cameo appearance as a social worker, come to jolly him up.

Yet still the arguments for and against Harrison’s “right” to die come out in clunky gobbets of dialogue. There’s no feeling that he has arrived at his decision over time – although we are told as such in the final scenes – or that his relationships existed before curtain’s up.

And by the time those final scenes come round this has transformed into a static courtroom drama. When ironically, despite using the one set, the hospital drama does succeed in flowing through the piece.

The biggest difficulty is that the issue is not as topical as it first seems – it’s not the right to euthanasia, but the right to suicide. Disturbingly, this is never challenged in a script which assumes that extreme physical disability equates with automatic loss of any quality of life.

It’s a very strong effort from Leitheatre, but they fail to get the better of a play which, although updated to the 1990s, is stuck fast in the political mindset of the Seventies when it was written.

Run continues to Saturday 14 November
Box Office: 0131 668 2019
Leitheatre Website


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