Whose Life is it Anyway?
by Brian Clarke
Directed by Simon Welch
Brian Friel Theatre
In September 2012, a poll in The Sunday Times showed that a majority of 57% of adults believed that doctor-assisted suicide should be legalised for terminally ill patients who requested it. Consequently it comes as no surprise that Brian Clark’s 1978 play ‘Whose Life Is It Anyway?’ has been revived by a group of final year drama students at Queen’s University, all the more in light of legal battles such as quadriplegic Ken Harrison’s which continues to be fought in the courts and last year’s successful appeal of locked-in syndrome sufferer, Tony Nicklinson that he be granted the right to lawfully end his life in a ‘right-to-die’ high court case. Whose Life is it Anyway? has blazing topical relevance and resonance but director Simon Welch’s ferocious edit of Clark’s script has removed a lot of the moral and ethical issues of euthanasia and therein lies the problem with this production: Welch has been too ruthless with his red pen and has eviscerated most of the relationships in the original text. It is a real shame.
The storyline is deceptively simple. An intelligent sculptor, Ken Harrison, (Donal Morgan), is recovering in hospital after a serious road accident has left him paralysed from the neck down. Facing the prospect of such an existence, Ken realises that he could not survive outside of a medical institution, and he requests that he be discharged from hospital in order to end his life. This decision leads to an immediate emotional and ethical conflict between Ken and Dr Emerson (Natasha Harbinson), whose duty is to preserve life, not to terminate it. In the end, Ken has to resort to legal sanction in order to get what he wants.
Throughout the course of the play we are introduced to a series of doctors and solicitors that lack depth due to their sketchily written dialogue (a result of Welch’s injudicious pruning). In spite of convincing performances from Sarah King as Dr Travers and Emma Hamill as Dr Barr, both their characters require much more stage time and further development. Sarah McGilloway strikes just the right tone as the lawyer Ms Hill and Donal Morgan brings a heartfelt commitment and superb comic timing to the role of Ken Harrison. However, Whose Life is it Anyway? is a play that sets out to ask questions and unsettle its audiences but this production unfortunately fails to do both.