We are all going to die. But very few of us can know the date, the exact time that it will occur. Unless, of course, you're on Death Row.
Edmund White's play takes as its starting point the interviews which writer Gore Vidal held with the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, though here the characters are called James and Harrison. James is a wealthy, urbane and homosexual elderly man now living in Paris. Harrison is the young former soldier whose disjointed life and fractured thinking has led him to mass murder and so to his own death by lethal injection.
It's much easier to empathise with James, who can laugh at his own weaknesses - both physical and emotional - than with Harrison, an angry young man with a skull stuffed full of other men's paranoia. We admire writers with style; killers of children induce quite different feelings. White's script is literate and tries hard to keep a balance between the two different personalities but, perhaps inevitably, it's weighted towards life and the goodness of living.
Both performers in George Perrin's tautly controlled production are excellent. Peter Eyre nuances James' natural arrogance, nurtured by monetary as well as social success, with his ability to listen as well as question. Eyre lets us see why this man is a professional success and, because James does not cringe from his own frailties, why he can be comfortable with not always being loved as well as admired.
Arthur Darvill has the harder task. He wears a bright orange jumpsuit and his acting area is constrained by a metal-floored box, top-lit and furnished only with something horribly suggestive of the electric chair. Granted that Harrison is articulate enough, it is still difficult to make us have some understanding for his actions, much less sympathy.
Because the play is set in a prison, and in its most secure part at that, a studio theatre space with the audience on three sides involves us all very intimately. We are watchers but cannot be participants, mere helpless spectators at the passage to death. We are ourselves trapped by the inevitability of a certain end. There's never any high ground. It's a chilling thought for a warm evening.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester)