Kim Cattrall, who famously played the sexually voracious Samantha Jones in the long-running TV series Sex and the City, now makes her West End theatrical debut spending the evening lying flat on her back, flirting outrageously with passing men, and inviting their opinions on the attractiveness of her breasts.
Within seconds of the beginning of Brian Clark’s Whose Life is it Anyway?, she’s talking about men being “fuckable”, the ability to get herself off “by myself”, and wondering what the point of phone sex is if it gets to be routine.
But the difference here to Cattrall’s Sex and the City persona is that, when we meet her, she’s actually in a hospital bed, where she’s been these past five months, and facing the prospect of spending the rest of her life in one. Her character, sculptor Claire Harrison, suffered a severed spinal cord in a car accident, and is now paralysed – in all probability, permanently so.
For once, it’s no insult to accuse an actor of acting from the neck up: that’s literally all the movement her Harrison has left at her disposal. But Cattrall, propped up in a hospital bed that’s set at an alarming pitch on the raked stage of Lucy Hall’s set, brings a heartfelt commitment, sardonic wit and piercing emotional vulnerability to the role of a woman wrestling with a life and death decision. To be or not to be, that is her question.
It’s not a spoiler to say that she chooses to die, for most of the play revolves around her efforts to exercise that choice, against the wishes of the hospital doctors and administrators whose job, as they see it, is to preserve life, not help to terminate it.
Cattrall may be the still, calm but wrenching focus of Peter Hall’s entirely gripping production – and in a most unusual step, is rewarded with the final solo curtain call for her redoubtable efforts – but the strength of the production lies in how convincingly it’s inhabited throughout, from doctors (Alexander Siddig, William Chubb), nurses (Ann Mitchell, Emma Lowndes), orderly (Jotham Annan) and therapist (Rachel Bavidge) to lawyer (Amita Dhiri) and judge (Janet Suzman), who variously attend her.
Clark’s play - updated since its original 1978 production that featured Tom Conti as the then-male patient to include inevitable references to Christopher Reeve and Stephen Hawking - marshals a still powerful and pertinent debate. While another institutional-set drama, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, struck me as dated and gratuitous in its recent revival, also with a blazing star turn (Christian Slater) at its centre, this thought-provoking production is sensational rather than sensationalist.
- Mark Shenton