Monday, 16 January 2012

Theatre review: And No More Shall We Part

January's happy wacky fun party continues with a play about assisted suicide. Tom Holloway's And No More Shall We Part is the latest show in Hampstead's Downstairs season, and sees terminally ill Pam attempting to take her own life before her unspecified illness robs her of her dignity. On a small revolve, the action alternates between Pam's deathbed, where the pills are taking longer than expected to take effect, and the days leading up to it, starting when she tells her horrified husband Don what she intends.

Dearbhla Molloy and Bill Paterson's performances are masterclasses in quiet dignity and the play is undoubtedly possessed of some very moving moments. These come out of the blue to grab you by the throat at times but unfortunately this is partly because, for the majority of the 85 minutes, both the play itself and James Macdonald's direction stick monotonously to the same pace, which makes for a soporific effect: At times I was conscious of myself both admiring Molloy's performance as Pam desperately tries to go to sleep for good, and at the same time trying to keep myself awake.

The odd staging is also a bit of a distraction. Hannah Clark's set puts the furniture of a cosy family home on a revolve and backdrop covered in shiny black tile; while two of the stage management team are visible at the sides of the stage, operating the lighting and sound boards and occasionally taking props up to the actors. I was at a bit of a loss as to what this ostentatiously Brechtian staging was meant to signify. There are some plus points to the script - I was torn over my response to Pam refusing all of Don's requests, like having their children present: At times I felt she was being selfish as he was the one who'd be left behind with the consequences of how she died, at others I thought denying his wishes was a kindness to make sure he wasn't left feeling responsible. But the loving couple revealing affairs from several years previously feels like a standard trope that comes out of nowhere (if in need of emergency character points, break glass) and goes nowhere. And while the performances are excellent, I wished they'd been given more to explore about their characters than just his frustration and her serene stoicism.

And No More Shall We Part by Tom Holloway is booking until the 11th of February at Hampstead Theatre's Michael Frayn Space.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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