Sunday 22nd February 2015, matinée
We’ve had some great experiences so far at the Park Theatre, so when we heard that they were going to be hosting a black comedy about disability and euthanasia called ‘Kill Me Now’, we felt strangely drawn to the idea of another visit.
Brad Fraser’s play features Jake Sturdy, a writer who has put his career to one side while he looks after his disabled son Joey (could this be a nod to Peter Nichols’ ‘Day in the Death of Joe Egg’? we wonder). Joey is about to turn 18, and just as Jake is beginning to wonder about the future, circumstances force both of them to re-evaluate their lives as events lead to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.
Fraser is an assured writer who engages us from the very first moments of the play. We begin with the most ordinary scene imaginable, with Jake bathing his son (quite relieved at this point to be sitting on the opposite side to the real, water filled bath). The scene is rich in information with almost no exposition. We learn about the characters and their situation through the natural and unabashed rituals they have, and the plot is perfectly set up as we see for ourselves that it is getting ever more difficult for the middle-aged Jake to lift the adult Joel out of the bath and into his wheelchair. This simple start develops slowly into a more involved drama and Fraser seduces us into thinking the unthinkable, dragging age-old taboos kicking and screaming into the light, yet allowing us to see that, as the tagline says ‘normal is relative’. The shock is balanced in equal measures by the kind of humour that has us burying our head in our hands as we stifle the belly-laughs – a process which is piqued by the visibility of the audience on all sides.
Greg Wise leads the cast as Jake in an unselfconscious and warm-hearted performance, convincingly combining the qualities of an everyman and a superman. He barely seems to be acting at all, so engrossed are we in his situation and the impossibility of being the carer and father he wants to be. As Joey, Oliver Gomm is remarkable. His performance, requiring considerable distortion of his body and constant movement, is technically outstanding, but he never allows us to forget the inner life of this character, whose ‘issues’ are the same as any normal teenager. He exploits the humour of the piece to the full with excellent comic timing. Our only question would be, with such a rarity, a fully rounded and prominent part for a disabled person, was an able-bodied actor the only option?
As younger sister Twyla, a willing helper who is drawn into an ever more challenging situation, Charlotte Harwood peels back the onion layers of her defences with great subtlety, as we gradually learn how her childhood has affected her life, giving her feisty confidence the lie. Anna Wilson-Jones starts as a character very determined to keep her life compartmentalised, and her growing discovery that she has something to offer in this bizarre family set-up is warmly and subtly played. Jack McMullen, a former graduate of both Grange Hill and Waterloo Road, has the perfect CV to play Joey’s sidekick, lovable rogue Rowdy, a self-confessed ‘retard’, brain damaged from birth, whose socially inappropriate behaviour and brutal frankness make him uniquely qualified to help this ever more dysfunctional family. He is engaging and charming, providing many of the best moments of truly dark humour with perfect judgement.
Braham Murray directs the production with a complete absence of pretension, allowing the playwright’s beautifully crafted story and the fantastic ensemble cast to work their magic. How rare it is to see a play which is truly weighty, moving and thought-provoking, yet without polemic or preaching. Another triumph for the Park Theatre, who really seem to be on a mission to stretch and entertain audiences in equal measure.