Immortality? What a pretentious topic for a student play, you would think. Well, the playwright James Carragher seems to have had the same concerns, because he does anything but bombard the audience with a serious philosophical investigation. Rather, Life Sentence manages to combine comic elements with a touch of absurdity that make the potentially heavy topic suitably light-hearted for the stage.
The play starts off with Theo, the hypochondriac main character played by Nick Lyons, being diagnosed with immortality. Theo, instead of showing relief over his total immunity against all diseases, complains that he is now under pressure to achieve greatness. On the advice of his friends, he organises his own fake funeral, which obviously ends in a fiasco. Then it turns out that he will die after all, and what is more, in only a few months’ time.
Confused? The development of the plot is indeed slightly arbitrary, but that is not the point of the play. The crux of Life Sentence are its dialogues – fast-paced, witty, a real pleasure. While the long sequences of speech are certainly entertaining and captivating, the physical enactment, which sets theatre apart from other disciplines and defines its singularity, was lacking at times.
The director Jack Herlihy, well aware of the potential motionlessness on stage, did his best to bring the tableaus to life with the help of more agitated interludes, which in some cases unfortunately overshot the mark and seemed out of place. On the other hand, you could argue that a madly shouting total maniac mourner is just as absurd as the concept of a fake funeral in itself, and thus served the purpose of deriding the awe-inspiring idea of immortality well.
Still, relying almost solely on the interaction of the characters means sacrificing the individuality of the characters themselves. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened – neither the side-characters nor the protagonists were sufficiently developed. Naturally, a vague role handicaps the actor, too. William Hislop and Charlie Daniels, playing Theo’s friends Stan and Michelle, the two main characters alongside Theo, although performing convincingly, certainly had their difficulties with that lack of profile of their characters. Nick Lyons playing Theo struggled with the same problem, but also with comparatively lower competence in acting.
And yet – however many negative points we could grub out, we need not forget that Life Sentence is a student play. Written by and acted out by students. And although there are undeniably technical flaws, the brilliant dynamic dialogues, generally solid acting and audacious choice of topic are, quite frankly, awesome, and make Life Sentence, by student standards, a success.