Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Triple Fringe First winner Hannah Eidinow directs Chris Larner in a poignant story about assisted suicide. Frank, unsentimental and thoroughly engaging.
“If I ever meet me maker, I’m havin’ words. Faulty workmanship. I want me money back.”
On a black stage, empty but for a single chair, Chris Larner tells us how, last year, he accompanied his ex-wife, Alison, to Dignitas: the Swiss organisation for assisted dying. In this unsentimental but moving playlet, he talks about his ex-wife’s physical decline after a long battle against MS and explains the travails of getting through the Dignitas system: the paperwork, legalities, expense, time, secrecy – and the dread of being found out and prevented from fulfilling your intentions.
Though Larner is alone on a stage with no set, we’re never bored – our attention doesn’t waver for a moment. For an hour, he speaks directly to the audience, holding us in the palm of his hand. His delivery is matter-of-fact but energetic, the pace and tone of the play varied, and he frequently interrupts his story with portrayals of other characters: a Swedish doctor, a chambermaid, a waiter, as well as a candid treatment of his no-nonsense ex-wife. He nimbly dips in and out of the narrative, juggling characters admirably and keeping it all alive, all credible at once.
It’s a highly controversial subject to tackle. And some moralisers will no doubt take exception and say how dreadful it is that Larner has made a Fringe show out of his ex-wife’s death. But given the issue of assisted suicide is so contentious and one that’s perhaps easy to make a snap judgement about, it’s surely important for one who has known the reality of it – the reality of an unbearable life, the reality of the whole system and the actual procedure – to share that experience, that others may be better informed and able to take a more educated stance.
Informative and engaging, this bittersweet, strangely uplifting tale is told with much eloquence and truth. Much of the audience was in tears – one man completely overcome and breaking down repeatedly throughout. What makes it so affecting is that Larner is not trying to make us cry. He’s simply telling a story and is, for the most part, quite upbeat and often very funny. It’s a challenge to make a story about assisted suicide this buoyant and entertaining, but Larner gets the balance spot on.