WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?
Comedy Theatre, London SW1
Opened 25 January, 2005
***

If ever a poster image misrepresented the play it was selling, this one does.  Fair enough, the selling point itself is clear: Kim Cattrall. There she is, the Sex And The City star, contriving to look at once sultry and windswept.  And, most deceptively, vertical.  Whereas Brian Clarkís 1978 play (which heís revised for this run) centres on a sculptor paralysed from the neck down, whoís in a hospital bed the whole time.

Cattrall plays Claire Harrison, a car-crash victim who, realising that she can never again live the kind of life she wants, sues for the right to die.  Itís easy to joke about lying down on the job or what-have-you, but the fact is that, when all you have to act with are your face and voice, itís much harder to convey character and moods.  Itís harder still when the character is as complex and ambiguous as Claire is.

We see Claire desperately trying to keep joking, and keenly seeing through the hospital staffís optimistic facade.  Above all, we see that thereís a real question whether she is truly making a rational decision to end her own life, or whether itís the depression talking.  Cattrall begins her performance with an excess of phoney cheeriness, but she and her comrades gradually settle down as the main thrust of the plot emerges.

Cattrall isnít the only screen name in Peter Hallís cast: Amita Dhiri from This Life is nicely restrained as Claireís solicitor, and Alexander Siddig as the caring Dr Scott shows how underrated he was in Deep Space Nine.  Janet Suzmanís natural authority is perfect for the role of the judge.  And William Chubb deserves recognition as the consultant who finds his medical conscience pits him against Claire.

Clarkís updates to his play are wide-ranging, from the Internet to the real-life right-to-die case of Diane Pretty.  You can see why it was such a hit in America: it has that combination of sentiment and pluckiness, together with the frisson of looking at a Big Issue.  A quarter-century on, though, itís lost much of its punch, partly because what was once an imaginative investigation is now more like ordinary news fodder.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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