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Brighton Year-Round 2019

A Life Twice Given

Hi-Lo Productions

Genre: Drama, Theatre

Venue: The Rialto Theatre

Festival: ,

Low Down

David and Lisa lead the perfect family life, enriched by children, warmth and laughter until tragedy strikes and their eldest son is killed.

Perhaps cloning offers the answer, in cheating death and allowing you to come to terms with such loss? If you could give your lost son the life he was supposed to have, would you? Should you? But what happens if you come from a deeply religious community? How would you reconcile the spiritual, the traditional with the wonders of modern society and all its benefits?

This tale asks what happens when the clone takes his place in the family and lives the life that was lost. What forces are at play when something that was so perfect, appears to go so wrong?


Adapted from David Daniel’s book, A Life Twice Given, by Gail Louw, this is a story of the loss of a child set against complex ethical and moral themes.

This story works on many levels. At its heart this is a tale of loss, where caring, loving parents try to deal with the tragic death of their first-born son. In theatre, this is not a new subject, the associated themes are often repeated and resonate with audiences. But this work is more complex and ambitious than a standard tale of loss.

David and Lisa are from a traditional Jewish community and both live within it by conformity rather than belief. However, whilst their agnostic/atheist positions are publicly stated, they’re heavily influenced by the history of their faith. How are centuries-old teaching and customs reconciled with the reality of modern life? This battle is an on-going process and features heavily in the scripting

More generic philosophical questions are posed; If you could bring the dead back to life, should you? What would happen if you did? And what chance life could turn out how you would want it? Can you ever get back that which was lost? Should we even try?

And then there are the complex moral questions about science and cloning. What are the ethics involved?

Gail Louw does a good job in explaining the basic techniques of cloning and using this to develop subsequent ethical and moral arguments.

Because of the play’s complexity, there is a lot of sign-posting with each strand interwoven for the big finale where the themes are played out. It is a clever piece of writing, pitched at an intellectual level that allows the audience to understand the basis of the questions being asked.

The three actors, Natalia Campbell, Johnny Neal and Damian Reyes-Fox, play mother, father and son’s respectively. Themes and the complexity are well handled and their interactions and characterisations are largely believable. The play moves along with gusto, seeming shorter than its allotted 85 minutes.

The standout performance is Natalia Campbell as the mother, she animates her character during the debates and discussions and brings energy to the ‘perfect’ family.  However, there is an underplaying of her grief, a callous practicality to it and ultimately, the grieving process becomes dominated by her husband. The writing avoids the stereotypical images of a grieving mother, whereas its development could enhance the debates about having a natural-born child as a replacement for the lost son.

Johnny Neal gives the grief-stricken father some depth and his dialogue with Natalia rattles along. Their idyllic life is convincing and is nicely counterpointed by their later struggles. He plots and manipulates in order to get his way, unfortunately skulduggery does not appear to be his forte.

His character is a Psychiatrist, a man of ‘science’, but there’s little suggestion that his knowledge, training and experience is used to understand and manage the family’s grief.

As for Damian Reyes-Fox, he plays three parts, both the son’s, and the Scientist/Rabbi who becomes the ‘expert’. As the son’s, he fits the part, young, energetic, at times thoughtful and belligerent and so reminiscent of late adolescence.

It is as the Scientist/Rabbi that warrants further consideration. The accent, costume and his youth becomes an almost comedic parody, undermining the points he is making.

Reviewing is subjective, which can means it can be difficult to explain why we feel something does or doesn’t work. In this case, Damian performs a series of dances between scenes. They may work as a device to allow for costume changes, but personally I felt it added little to the story.

For all the play’s merits, and there are many, some elements bear further development.

In trying to adapt complex themes from a book there has to a process of reduction. A novel allows the author to delve deeper into issues and integrate themes in the narrative. With 85 minutes there are real difficulties in getting everything in, resulting in a trade-off between the number of themes included and the depth to which they can be explored.

The introduction of too many ‘questions’ risks producing a list of subjects without the depth needed to allow their examination. Although, when this work gets it right, it’s done well.

There is always a danger that the relentless inclusion of themes and debates takes up the space necessary for character development. Ultimately, at its heart this is still a tragic tale about the human experience.

Having introduced the themes, they need to be bought together, which happens in the finale, but because there were so many the effect becomes a bit disjointed.

Without wishing to give away a twist, there is one important question that is bought to the fore at the end, for which foreshadowing would have added a significant impact to the piece.

This is a solid piece of work. It is very well written, dealing with very complex themes and uncomfortable questions. It crams a lot in. The cast does a good job and it was very well received by the audience, who sat engrossed throughout and applauded warmly and at some length at the end. This is not a play that allows you to sit comfortably with the performance gently washing over you, thought and attention are required. It is recommended.