Life Support at the Aldwych [Venue information & Performances on here]
My diagnosis of Life Support by
Simon Gray is simple. This fatally flawed play has no chance of recovery. The sooner it is allowed a dignified exit, the better for all concerned.
Gwen lies in a coma in a British hospital, following a bee-sting in Guadaloupe. Her husband JG, a travel writer, waits for her to come round. Jack, JG's homosexual brother, comes to visit. Julia, JG's literary agent lover, drops by. Pat, a dope-ridden doctor, pops in and out. JG brings Gwen 'back to life' through imagined conversations.
The play is static beyond belief. There is nothing inherently theatrical to keep your eyes on the stage...or indeed to keep them open at all. At times, it's like watching a radio-play. Then again, with the strangely anti-theatrical device of JG's voice-overs, maybe Life Support is really a short story. Whatever it might be, satisfactory drama it ain't.
You don't care about the characters - not because they are entirely unsympathetic - but because you scarcely glimpse the humanity beyond the stereotype. JG has some elegant lines - 'When I don't see you, I can make you up', 'I hate trouble of any kind...except the trouble I make up in my hotel room.' But these are simply lines spoken by a stereotypical upper-middle-class loser in a stereotypical upper-middle-class play.
It beats me what such high quality actors are doing here. At least
Alan Bates as JG gets a fair crack of dialogue. Georgina Hale, who plays coma-ridden Gwen, deserves better than a few hackneyed lines and three choruses of 'Silent Night'. I only hope she took this role to catch up on her sleep.
Jack and Julia are such shamelessly one-dimensional characters, Gray might as well have done without naming them other than 'the homosexual' and 'the lover'. When JG reveals his fantasy of Gwen and Julia being lovers, it has no impact other than to embarrass - as if someone was aping early Pinter rather badly. The only character with any real possibilities is
Frank McCusker's Pat. He has some interesting moments, towards the end of the play for instance, when he raises the question 'why do we have to love?' But such moments are trampled underfoot by the restless stampede of cliches.
There just isn't room for this lame offering in the West End - not since the arrival of pieces as intelligent, relevant and downright theatrical as
Popcorn and Shopping and F***ing.
Justin Somper, August 1997