“Your last meal – what would it be?”
Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.
And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they?
Despite its fascination in terms of subject, and the pleasure of finding a new work as part of the repertoire for this company, the writing rarely felt that inspired nor particularly compelling in its attempt to frame the moral debate. More interesting is the directorial flair with which Sean Holmes directs the show, toying with ideas of location and staging that feel genuinely fresh and new, as exciting as you can get in the final moments.