“I want to be free. And I want you to be free too.”
When Bea, a young woman stricken with an unidentified but horrifically debilitating and incurable condition, has a new carer employed by her over-protective barrister mother, she sets about getting him to help her write the most difficult letter possible, stating her desire to die and asking for the help necessary, from her mother, in order to make that happen. Thus Gordon explores the boundaries of human kindness especially towards loved ones and empathy for those suffering from any range of conditions and diseases that render them helpless. For Bea’s particular condition is never identified (though ME is hinted at), meaning that instead of being a specific debate about assisted killing in relation to a certain disease, this is a more nuanced look at the relationships that exist in Bea’s life, such as they are, and the life that Bea wishes that she could have, were she not trapped in her failing body.
Pippa Nixon is beautiful at illuminating the indefatigable inner self of Bea, wonderfully eloquent in the reasoning behind her choice to end her life, an irrepressible spirit that is hard to resist and made all the more painful by the moving scenes when she was portraying the disease-ravaged reality of Bea’s condition. Paula Wilcox’s mother is beautifully observed: stridently over-protective of her daughter but there was a real honesty to the way in which she portrayed the dilemmas of her character, finding refuge in the legal language of her job but slowly becoming accustomed to the new presence in her household as she recognises how Bea responds to her new carer. And Al Weaver as Ray, said carer and more accurately named Not Gay Ray, is simply outstanding, with several monologues including a frenetic and hilarious run through a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, the touching revelation of the truth behind his choice of profession and excellently demonstrating the depth of the compassion he develops for Bea as she makes requests of him that he struggles to deny.
But for all the brilliant performances and the refreshing way in which the play is presented, there was a little something missing for me, a true connection with the central debate about assisted suicide which is somewhat side-stepped here as Gordon is more concerned with testing the limits of his characters’ compassion rather than the true ethics of euthanasia and the conflicts that it provokes. Yes, this is Gordon’s intent and perhaps makes for a more entertaining evening at the Soho Theatre which I did indeed find to be involving, but one which could have ultimately delved a little deeper for me and with more intelligence into all sides of the debate on what is such a contentious and emotive issue.
NB: thanks to Rev Stan and @polyg for the recommendation