Whose Life is it Anyway?
Paul Johnson | 23 Jun 2016 00:31am
Director, Nick Mouton, certainly doesn’t appear to favour the safe option when it comes to directing theatre in the City of London. In only his second spell in the director’s chair – following the daunting task of staging John Whiting’s adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils in March last year – he finds himself, this week, asking Sedos’s savvy audiences to gaze at a hospital bed for two hours.
And what a riveting couple of hours it was at last night’s opening performance.
Brian Clark’s ’70s play, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, centres on the subject of ‘the right to die’ and concerns the tragic situation of sculptor, Ken Harrison, who has been paralysed from the neck down following a road-traffic accident. Permanently unable to do anything below the neck without the aid of full-time medical assistance (except breathing), Harrison has decided his life is now over and requests to be discharged – the result of which would be a swift and certain death.
On the other side of the argument is Dr Emerson, who is in charge of Harrison’s recovery and bent on keeping his patient alive at all costs. This leads to Harrison instructing a solicitor to effectively sue the hospital for the right to take control of his own destiny.
The success of such a physically static production, apart from the quality of writing, relies heavily on how the journey of the drama is presented; otherwise you really will be staring at a hospital bed for two hours. Dickon Farmar, as Harrison, takes care of this with great skill and, with no more than his head, manages to lead the cast with assured confidence. Not only is he (obviously) in every scene, the poor guy doesn’t even get to leave the stage during the interval for fear of destroying the dramatic illusion created over the previous sixty minutes.
In a thoroughly believable performance, one can’t help but rooting for the man’s ‘success’ – and ironically thus his death. Early glimpses of high intelligence, wit and a wicked sense of humour made Harrison’s situation even harder to accept for the intensely quiet audience all around me. Farmar’s portrayal carries the show and is an inspired and pivotal piece of casting.
On the whole, the supporting cast are pretty much up to the job but in the spirit of an honest review I would have to say that on opening night there were the odd occasions when, for me, the shine was slightly taken off Farmar’s performance by one or two of his more able-bodied contemporaries. However, with the production currently mid-run, I’m certainly not going to start singling anybody out.
What I can do is give special mention to Craig Karpel as Dr Emerson who does well in portraying someone who, at first, comes across as being on a bit of an obtuse power-trip but sure enough in the end reveals a high degree of humanity in his professionalism. Jessica Clements nicely underplays the American Dr Scott who forms an emotional bond with Harrison’s plight, and full marks to Kate Parke and Emily McDonald for a couple of strong and authentic supporting performances as Sister Anderson and her pretty trainee nurse, Kay Sadler.
There were one or two oddities during the production, which are perhaps down to the play itself. This came in the form of a couple of the peripheral storylines. Apart from finding it rather difficult to muster much interest in the flirtatious relationship between happy-go-lucky hospital porter, John (Kwesi Davies), and the aforementioned Nurse Sadler… it was the extraordinary (penultimate scene) revelation of a potential lesbian attraction between Dr Scott and Harrison’s solicitor, Margaret Hill (Julie Dark) that I found to be completely bizarre and superfluous to the proceedings.
That aside, this is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre about a highly sensitive and controversial subject. It therefore garners great credit that Nick Mouton and Sedos have successfully managed to engage their audience so well. As Ken Harrison emotionally ultimately states in front of the judge “It’s all about dignity!” – This is a very dignified production.
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- : 21/06/2016