Passing Sentence on New Comedy: Life Sentence, BT Studio

Immortality. It’s a subject that has taken up a lot of time in books, on stage and the screen, although usually it seems to be the fanatical desire of a super-villain (like that bloke in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who tried to find immortality in the Holy Grail) or something that afflicts a hero who has never wanted it (think Captain Jack in the revamped Doctor Who). Unfortunately for the protagonist Theo (Nick Lyons), and for the audience, the news of his immortality simply stuns him into a state of constant carping – I suppose something we might have expected from a hypochondriac.

The main drawback of the play was the combination of Theo’s whinging with the character’s lack of credibility. He’s a hypochondriac – he’s scared of death. He discovers he may get ill but he will never die. Where’s the problem? Most people would celebrate or try out their new-found freedom. Not Theo. Theo starts moaning from the off and never stops. Although this is mainly a problem with the writing, it is nevertheless emphasised by Lyons’ lack of diversity of facial expression: he alternates between a look of anxiety-ridden annoyance and, occasionally, confusion.

Despite these faults, the plot is a good one – at its core. Though the main plot is slightly ridiculous, it does lead to some very funny scenes including one with a ‘party’ to celebrate Theo’s new found life and a brilliantly droll speech given by Theo’s dad (Kieran Ahern) which, at one point, wonderfully parodies The Lord of the Rings. The characters surrounding Theo are given much more plausibility, with special commendation going to the actor playing the best friend Stan (Will Hislop), who definitely raised the most laughs from the packed out audience. Though the interaction between Michelle (Stan’s girlfriend, of sorts – played by Charlie Daniels) and Theo was a little uncomfortable at times; the romantic aspect of the play seemed almost superfluous, she was well played overall by Dennis. The most impressive scene was  the party with the arrival of two strays from the ‘Bargain Booze’ shop around the corner – Trevora (Jack Light) popping steroids like sweets, and his budding ‘actoress’ friend; I wish we could have seen more of them!

Despite my reservations Life Sentence is definitely worth an hour of your time: witty dialogue and a smooth stream of varied scenes retain interest. With some tweaking the story could have been improved, but this is a good piece of original drama and I sincerely hope that Jamie Carragher continues to write – he can only go upwards from this solid start. The Burton-Taylor Studio was full and the audience was laughing throughout: what more can an ‘original comedy’ ask for?

*** (3 STARS)

Life Sentence plays at the Burton-Taylor Studio until Saturday.

PHOTO/Masha Gindler POSTER/Beyond the Bridge