Preview: Life Sentence

So, Oxford gets another piece of new writing in the Burton Taylor Studio. But for a change, it isn’t terrible. In fact, Life Sentence is rather good. The play is centred on Theo, a hypochondriac who has been diagnosed with immortality. Naturally the man’s horrified, and after a friend organises a party to cheer him up, which goes dismally wrong, Theo stages his own funeral. This in turn goes dismally wrong, and then… Well, I’ve sworn not to give away the ending 

There are some weighty themes here, but the writing doesn’t overdo them. It has a lightness and deftness of touch, so it doesn’t stagnate into some oh-so-deep-and-meaningful exposition of the thoughts of a twenty year old who is oh-so-utterly crippled by the size of his own intelligence. Life Sentence is funny too. You may not end up doubled over in laughter, but you’ll have a smile on your face throughout. Who knew immortality could be so amusing?

The script has its faults, of course. The principal one I saw was that the relationship between Theo and Michelle, a friend of his, was too ferociously argumentative to believe, but we can probably pardon Jamie Carragher that. He has done an excellent job overall. The cast is of eight. In the preview, we only see three of them in action. For a fortnight before the opening night, they were shaping up well.

The doctor (who makes the dreadful diagnosis) is played by Charlie Dennis. Both in terms of the writing and the acting, the character is a little absurd, but only a fraction more so than your G.P. on an off day. He’s not exactly believable, but he’s well-rounded, and Dennis is playing him excellently. Charlie Daniels plays Michelle, Theo’s friend and something of a love interest for him (which is awkward, because she’s actually dating another one of Theo’s friends). It was a solid performance. Her movements seem simultaneously both lithe and stiff, and she embodies the long suffering friend well.

Related  Cuppers Review: DMV Tyrant

But ultimately, Michelle and the doctor are not lead roles, and so it is a shame that Nick Lyons, who plays Theo, was the least competent of the three. The director, Jack Herlihy, wants Theo not to be a timid hypochondriac; he wants Theo to be a vigorous attention seeker. I commend this, but Lyons’s reactions are simply not believable. Nobody, however much he wants others to feel sorry for his every illness, would immediately be outraged at being diagnosed with immortality. His relationship with Michelle also strains at one’s suspension of disbelief.

The writing is superb: it straddles the line between comedy and seriousness perfectly. It is still being performed in the Burton Taylor, so don’t go in the hope of any spectacle. Expenditure on set and costumes looks set to be minimal. That said, they did promise a coffin on stage…

THREE STARS

See Life Sentence for yourself at the Burton Taylor, it plays from Tuesday 13th – Saturday 17th November and is £5 for students.