AN INSTINCT FOR KINDNESS
by Chris Larner
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 28 April.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627.
then Tour to 29 June 2012.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
Review: William Russell 11 April.
Moving rage against the dying of the light.
A provocative, moving evening on a controversial subject – assisted suicide. Chris Larner’s ex-wife Allyson suffered from MS for some 20 years, and after her condition started to deteriorate, asked him for an assurance that he would take her to Dignitas, (the Swiss clinic which helps people die) when she felt she could bear it no longer.
Although divorced, they had remained friends – they had a son – and Larner agreed. By 2008 Allyson was in a wheelchair and needed help with, as he says, “everything except thinking.” By the beginning of 2010, doubly incontinent, requiring constant help, and in pain Allyson, a former actress and drama teacher, had made her decision. Larner’s play, written after her death, is about how they set about the task of ending her life.
Though suicide here is not against the law, helping people to commit suicide is. The two came up against Swiss-imposed bureaucracy, the fact that the forms they needed completed here were difficult to obtain because officials and doctors who had to sign were afraid of the legal consequences, and, once in Switzerland, against the amazing attitudes of the Dignitas staff.
Larner’s performance is a tour de force by a compelling actor. And it is not all gloom. Allyson realised that she had brought a book with her to Switzerland but was not going to have time to finish it. Larner said he would read the last pages. She complained it was about people she had not heard of. It was then he looked at the book and realised it was one with a taster first chapter at the end for another book and it was this chapter he had been reading.
The indignity of the whole process of assisted dying comes over clearly as does the contradictory state of British law – the play is a substantial contribution to a debate about an issue many people find deeply worrying. One thing it reveals is that the process of dying is not pleasant – the cocktail of drugs the suicide has to swallow taste very nasty indeed – but the Swiss provide chocolates for afterwards.
Performer: Chris Larner.
Director: Hannah Eidinow.
Lighting: James Smith.
Sound: Paul Bull.