Review: Whose Life Is It Anyway? (Mask Theatre)

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As someone old enough to remember Richard Dreyfus’ cinematic portrayal, Tom Conti’s West End tour de force as Ken in ‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’ by Brian Clark and even the Ian McShane early seventies’ TV drama that preceded it, I was interested to see how this issues based play presented itself in 2015.

For me, the jury is still out as the more recent dilemma of the Tony Nicklinson example and other locked-in syndrome cases have raised rather different points for our age than that of the quadriplegic sculptor who retains his sharp, mental faculties, barbed tongue and cutting wit until the bitter end.

Jill Ward assisted by Carolyn English, in a well-directed piece which made the most of the Key Studio’s space and extensive lighting rig, chose to set the play in a time that was neither 1978 or 2015. One or the other, preferably the original, would have allowed us to examine the strengths of this tragi-comedy whilst examining the modern parallels.

That said, there were a range of strong performances, punctuating this powerful piece. From Dave Slinger’s leading man with barely a moment out of the audience’s focus to the tiniest cameos, the actors displayed the focus and expertise we have come to expect from Peterborough Mask Theatre. The impressive cast of thirteen moved from one cleverly lit area to another, aided by a well-chosen soundtrack in an abstract hospital setting cleverly constructed and accessorised by John Crisp, Catherine Myland, Amanda Bryant whilst skillfully overseen by Production Manager, Diane Fox.

The talented Dave Slinger carried the bulk of the dialogue forcefully and wittily in a play that I would characterize as one of interrupted serial monologues, but he was very effectively supported by Carolyn English, Suzanne Tuck and Becky Owen-Fisher’s contrasting doctors and the gripping litigation of Philip Hill, Helena Jones and Verina Henchy.

I particularly liked the truthful, natural performances of Jan Wright and Joanna Scott as sister and nurse respectively and those of Armins Morozs, Matt Smith, Cheryl Livingstone and Bernie Johnston which caught the natural rhythms of speech and a realistic physicality in a stubbornly static play which made the audience face up to what it would mean to be in Ken’s place.

Overall, this was a play worth reviving and one that continues to make us think about the life decisions all of us might have to make. In a compelling and enjoyable production of note, Mask Theatre confirm their status as one of the best societies in the area, able to present everything from Shakespeare to modern farce and much between with equal class and aplomb. We look forward to this summer’s ‘King Lear’ in Peterborough Central Park and to ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ at the Key Theatre main house.

Reviewed by Sandra Samwell