Assisted Suicide: The Musical, Royal Festival Hall

It’s uncomfortable to watch a play that conflicts with your politics or world view, and Liz Carr’s Assisted Suicide: The Musical does just that. The gay actor and comedian aligns with cuddly liberal ideology other than her avowed opposition to legalising assisted suicide in the UK. As a disabled woman, she worries that disabled people will consequently feel pressured to end their lives so they are no longer burdens on their loved ones, especially as many non-disabled people flippantly comment how hard their lives must be. After all, if you’re told the same thing over and over again, it’s too easy to start believing it.

More of a cabaret than a musical, the self-described “TED talk with show tunes”, doesn’t shy away from firmly justifying Carr’s perspective. Surrounded by an all-white, all-American ensemble of singer/dancers, Carr’s dry humour, ferocity and disability is powerfully emphasised. There’s no storyline in the piece so the format becomes repetitive after some time, but the content is varied enough to hold attention.

Fully expecting her audience to be fellow liberals and luvvies, Carr challenges their obsession with choice by gently mocking it in the opening number. Legalising assisted suicide does satisfy the need for choice, but she emphasises that the state has so far declined to press charges against anyone that has helped a family member or loved one to end their own life. This legal position allows for protection of vulnerable people that may feel pressured to die. Carr’s conviction and passion may or may not win people to her side, but her thorough analysis of the issue is substantial food for thought.

Though the message is undeniable, the execution is rough and ready. Short, satirical sketches and vignettes – often wonderfully surreal – support Carr’s conversational monologues that are the crux of the piece. But they are disconnected from each other, and dwarfed by the TED talk sections. The overall effect is more of a lecture or presentation rather than a performance. Some of the song and dance numbers feel flat, and the ensemble is too small for such a large stage.

Assisted Suicide: The Musical is engaging, entertaining and full of conviction, but its intermittent theatricality isn’t enough. It absolutely provokes self-doubt and questioning. Unfortunately, it feels like a montage of ideas in the R&D stage of a performance piece rather than a finished work.

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