Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 25 – Jun 5, 2016
Playwright: Martin Ashley Jones
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Lauren J. Jones, Denise Kitching, David Luke, Sarah Plummer, Ross Scott, Sylvia White
Image by Thomas Adams
Discussions about end-of-life decisions are invariably dynamic. Each of us has a stake in the topic, and our points of view tend to be fiercely adversarial, even though the matter is contentious precisely for its manifold ambiguities. Martin Ashley Jones’ Is It Time makes a courageous proposition about the way we should be allowed to be in control of our own deaths. It makes a pro-euthanasia argument, but avoids cliché with some of its more radical ideas that are rarely presented in public discourse. Jones’ story is confronting and controversial, with well-crafted characters and vibrant dialogue that will facilitate healthy debate on the subject. The script can be further finessed, especially in passages where diatribes become too obvious, but it is a passionate work that will encourage thoughtful and spirited interaction in its audience.
Direction by Barry Walsh brings excellent lucidity, in emotional and logical terms, to the play’s ideas. There is little doubt as to what Is It Time wishes to say, but the show can often lack nuance in its representations. The issue is a complex one, but we jump to its conclusions almost too easily. Walsh’s pace is admittedly enjoyable, but it also feels rushed at points, and important details become lost in the process. Performances are characterised by clarity and enthusiasm, and even though a greater sense of moral struggle would add drama to the piece, the production succeeds in engaging us by asking important, burning questions. Sylvia White and Ross Scott lead the cast with heartbreaking honesty and beautiful chemistry. Their control over poignant sections of the play is considerably stronger than in moments of comedy, and we do take time to warm up to their personalities, but they get us to an ending that is ultimately very satisfying.
Fighting over the right for a dignified death is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that many who argue against euthanasia have not encountered terminal illness at close proximity. For those who only see death as a distant and abstract concept, taking away a suffering individual’s final cardinal choice is a not a difficult task. Is It Time demonstrates that art has the unique capacity to provide space for the issue to be explored, in a way that is humane and sentimental, but simultaneously objective and pragmatic. There are few opportunities for us to come face to face with our mortality, but at the theatre, where it is secure and sacred, we can interrogate the inevitability to reach a deeper understanding of that sunset we will all see one fateful day.