Theatre Review: Whose Life is it Anyway? At the Brian Friel Theatre

BY PETER McLOUGHLIN

Whose Life is it Anyway? is a play, put together by Queen’s Drama students, that deals with the right of the individual concerning euthanasia.

The narrative was compelling throughout; built around the contrast in stance taken by doctor, patient, and the law in these matters. The play was carried successfully by the main lead, Donal Morgan, whose wish it is, as an intelligent sculptor-turned-quadriplegic, to be taken off life-support. The dialogue switched often from a higher to a lower register where appropriate, and the rest of the cast too deal admirably with this often unfamiliar discourse – however its unnaturalness to the speaker was sometimes apparent. The stage was well-used, and the play was fast paced but never rushed.

The often aggressive juxtaposition between character’s opinions in Whose Line… were, as I said, the chief way in which the play progresses, and with an issue as divisive as pre-meditated, assisted suicide, these juxtapositions of feeling must be portrayed with a pertinent intensity. And throughout the play this intensity was well-developed and maintained by the performance team.

Donal Morgan was most convincing as the articulate, witty and urbane protagonist Ken Harrsion. His relationship with Rachael Curran’s Dr. Scott is the only sentimental relationship in the play, and Morgan and Curran bounced off one another with an authentic tenderness. In fact, the weight of each actor’s performance in the play almost without exception comes from how well they sparred with Morgan’s Harrison – and most did very well. Tasha Harbinson, who plays Dr. Emerson – the lead whose aim is to stop Harrison from achieving his wish to be taken off life support – dealt with Harrison in a cold and clinical way, and their relationship was suitably tense and clinical.

However, where the exchanges between Morgan’s Harrison and whomever he was faced with felt often quite natural, the exchanges between the nurses, doctors, lawyer, and judge away from Harrion’s bed were at times stilted. The higher register of the professional characters meant that there were often lengthy, complicated back-and-forth’s between actors, and this type of exposition is hard to deal with from an actor and directorial position: the actors did well but occasionally seemed uncomfortable with the dialogue, and there was a rigidity to their movement in these scenes too. Many of the characters were of course deliberately reserved, but the actors – with the exception of Sarah McGilloway as the lawyer Ms. Hill; who handled her role with an assured poise – did not always exude the confidence in manner and movement needed to accurately portray this type of character. But as I said, these are tough character’s to portray, and this is never an issue to the point of detracting from the narrative, as altogether Whose Life… flows from interaction to interaction very well.

The stage was used to maximum effect, with a simple but striking set. Morgan’s Harrsion was stage centre, and on one side was the doctor’s office, and on the other the nurse’s station. The disparity between the doctor, the patient, and the nurse’s points of view of

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the issue – and how separate they are as individuals within the health, social, and power systems around them – is cleverly visually reinforced by this set.

And the play does flow well. Character’s flit in and out as Harrison fights to make his own choice regarding how he wants to end his life. The drama is gripping and the production as a whole, like 100, tackles maturely and competently some serious and contentious issues.

Queen’s Drama students have produced a captivating play. The group should be commended, and Whose Life… is easily recommended.

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