Review: Killing Time (Park Theatre)

Brigit Forsyth stars alongside her daughter Zoe Mills in Mills’ debut play

Hester Brook is in her sixties and she’s dying of cancer. She has no friends, no family, no religion and, in her words, she is a "prime candidate for a one-way trip to Switzerland." But rather than seeking help to ensure a dignified end to her shortened life, she opts to spend her final days in solitude, killing time.

Zoe Mills’ debut play sees her mother, the magnificent Brigit Forsyth, take centre stage as Hester. Sharp tongued and potty-mouthed, her former life as a professional cellist, playing to packed-out concert halls, has given way to afternoons watching Jeremy Kyle and drowning in rioja. Fed up with the melancholy and morbidity that must often come with a cancer diagnosis, she’s cut herself off from those around her, preferring her own company – or so she'd like us to believe.

It’s a tour-de-force from Forsyth, her Mrs B a cross between Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey and Gordon Ramsay, effing and blinding her way through life’s final concerto. Unlike the archetypal image of the terminally ill, frail and despondent, Hester wants to do things her own way, pissed as a fart and struggling to stay on her feet. It may look tragic to an outsider, but if she is going to die, then it’s going to be on her terms.

That is until her obnoxious carer Sara (Mills) comes calling. She's more than a little wet behind the ears, but she's determined to help whether it’s desired or not. Her youthful naivety initially hides a deeper understanding of Hester’s predicament, as we soon learn she carries her own burdens and harbours a desire to help older people end their lives, perhaps her penance for not helping her own father when he needed it. But instead of helping Mrs B end her life, Sara helps her realise its potential.

Paul Colwell's cardboard box set speaks of a life packed away, possessions ready for the charity shop, memories ready for the bonfire. A revolve – a rare sight in a 90-seater studio theatre – spins into action as time passes, underscored by the cello composition "HeartTime", composed and played live by Forsyth.

The problem with having a lot of time on your hands is often the conundrum of choice. In these modern times we can, within reason, do anything, go anywhere, see anyone at the click of a button, but do we? Usually not, we scroll through Netflix, unable to choose which boxset to commit to.

At points Killing Time falls foul of this, its main theme is legacy and this is explored well, but the taut 90 minutes doesn't allow enough time to truly consider many of the aspects raised, from unfulfilled potential to the digital footprint we leave behind in cyberspace, how women often become "less about their talent, and more about who they've fucked" to the moralities of euthanasia. It's perhaps just a little too much to consider but nevertheless it's a promising start from Mills and a welcome return for Forsyth.

Killing Time runs at the Park Theatre until 4 March.