“I don’t want any British stiff upper lip, I want lots of weeping and wailing and people incon-friggin-solable”. So says Allyson, as she makes preparations, with her ex-husband Chris, for the funeral that will be held after he assists her to commit suicide at the Swiss clinic, Dignitas.
Allyson was diagnosed, back in the 80s, with Multiple Sclerosis and, despite initial improvements due to her change in diet and the exercise she did, she has gradually become less and less able to look after herself. Her ex-husband is Chris Larner, the writer and performer of this heartfelt and heart-wrenching one-man show and it is he, together with a veritable army of professional carers, who now tend to Allyson’s every need.
In a triumphant tour de force, Larner voices all the characters in the story, and succeeds in bringing each and every one to life with his vivid portrayals. The story begins with Chris and Allyson’s wedding, the birth of their son George and then their subsequent divorce. He takes great pains to explain that he still loves Allyson, they were just no good at being man and wife.
After a serious fall, and the discovery that Multiple Sclerosis was the cause, we hear tales of Allyson’s fight to beat this cruel disease. Her walks to the very top of Otley Chevin, her return to work as a drama teacher and her sheer bloody-mindedness are all told with so much love and affection, although Larner reminds us that, after a very short time together, they remember why they divorced.
He goes into great detail about the huge amount of paperwork, and the complete secrecy, that surrounds the decision to approach Dignitas, and we are also informed of that legal anomaly that allows suicide to be legal, but helping someone to achieve that goal to be illegal.
The story follows a basic linear timeline, but does jump backwards and forwards on that line occasionally. It is incredibly easy to follow and, by cleverly answering the silent questions he “hears” from the audience, the more complex legal terminology and procedures are explained for all to understand.
We know, from the very beginning, where this story will end and, sure enough, it is not long before we hear tales of the last two drinks Allyson will take. One is to stop her vomiting because the other is a bitter chemical cocktail that she must acknowledge on video, for the Swiss authorities, she knows will end her life. Larner even describes the small Swiss chocolate that she is given afterwards to take the taste away.
The tale is a sad one, but we are not really sad for Allyson or Chris. Her life has become an endless round of enemas, catheters, pain and immobility. Her dignity was taken away years ago and her future, too horrific to try and imagine. The sadness comes through realising that, even in the enlightened days of the 21st century, we still shun away from dealing with the inevitability of death and the prospect, in such extreme circumstances, of being allowed to choose when it should happen.
This is a remarkable show, delivered by a remarkable man! Fight to get a ticket.