It’s difficult to know where to start reviewing Chris Larner and his one-man show. Even if it was crap (it wasn’t) how on earth can you type bad stuff about a bloke who has assisted his missus, Alison, to die? And in addition, puts it out there on stage, laid bare, for the public to see? So at least my honesty isn’t being tested.
Another sparse Arts Centre Friday evening audience. A chair the one and only prop. And you could hear a pin drop for 90 minutes as Larner told – no, acted – his story. And a gulp-inducing, tear-wrenching story it is. But, and astonishingly, it is mostly an easy watch as Larner finds, and mixes in, the comical and the absurd within the tragic storyline.
Larner’s wife contracts MS which eventually leaves her in constant pain and distress. All treatments and drugs, conventional and otherwise, have no lasting effect. She feels that she no longer wishes to continue and the couple contact the Swiss organisation Dignitas. For a price (and the price is within the reach of most) they will legally assist you to die.
Perhaps. It’s like snakes and ladders. If you’re just a bit fed up and depressed you don’t get to square one. Only if you’re really really sick do you get to advance a few squares to the first ladder. (Interestingly we hear that, in the UK anyway, suicide has been decriminalised but aiding and abetting suicide is still an offence. So try getting a notary public to give you an affidavit of domicile!) Only if you’re kosher and have exhausted all other avenues might you get to take that final journey to Zurich. Once there you undergo further assessments before you can proceed. The process itself is by lethal dose. Even as you approach this stage there are snakes to slide down, often through choice.
It is all handled with remarkable frankness by Larner. And he is not only a narrator but he acts out the part of his suffering wife with the conviction of having lived with her as she suffered. He also gives us a sense of the other characters involved. Of particular poignancy is the scene in which he comes across, near Dignitas HQ, a shed full of walking sticks, Zimmer frames etc. But on the other hand the humour continues to the end. As she awaits the final act Alison requests that Larner read her the end of a book she has been reading. He inadvertently reads the preview from the author’s next book to Alison’s bemusement who recognises none of the characters.
A straightforward portrayal of a difficult subject, born of experience. The pro-lifers and others will hate it but this play doesn’t preach, it just tells it as it was.
An emotional but excellent performance. Larner’s tour of the show continues and the website can be found at http://www.aifk.co.uk/