Review: Life Sentence

What would I do if I were diagnosed with immortality? There are two obvious options. Either living each day without fear of consequence: eating loads of those little crispy M&Ms that come in the blue packet; getting arrested for excessive public nudity and breeding piranhas in my bath. Alternatively the ‘Bill Murray in Groundhog Day’ route: all mortality-testing misery; jumping in front of trains; getting bored; eating ice-cream and wooing Andie MacDowell.

Anyway, immortality is what the play is about. But, rather than following the current trend of taking standard superhero fare and pointing out the banality surrounding special powers (a la Kick-Ass), this play takes our mundane lives with our tedious relationships and puts a boring man in the centre, who happens to be diagnosed with eternal life.

The subject matter offers plenty of scope for clever word play and Jamie Carragher, the writer, takes full advantage. It was pleasantly surprising to experience a piece of intelligent new writing – the characters were well substantiated, the dialogue quite natural. There were no unnecessary frills, the simplicity of the piece was gratifying. However, this simplicity, which Jack Herlihy’s direction will reflect in the understated staging and lighting, means that the onus is on the actors to make the very most of Carragher’s witty script.

Charlie Dennis as the doctor was very good – he was dismissive and superior, seemingly unconcerned by the rather odd news he has just delivered to his patient. His gags were well timed; but timing is something that Nick Lyons as the protagonist, Theo, seemed to lack. A couple of good lines suffered from unexpected and awkward pauses, and his physical interaction with Dennis and Charlie Daniels (who plays Michelle) was not as natural as it could have been. Still, there are more rehearsals to go, so hopefully these quibbles will be addressed.

The prospect of seeing a bit of new writing is usually a chance to start coming up with barbed put-downs and pithy quips, but the script of Life Sentence does not deserve these. A Kafkaesque situation (I assume, having never actually read Kafka, though I probably would at some point if I were immortal) is quite intelligently realised, with a focus on absurdity and humanity, rather than philosophy and magical realism. This is Carragher’s first piece and I really do hope it will not be his last – Oxford theatre does frills, big-budgets, classic plays again and again, but pared-back wit and ingenuity is, without being too trite, nice and refreshing.

Life Sentence plays at the BT Tuesday-Saturday of 6th week at 7:30pm.