Pros: Carr offers a fresh perspective on a controversial topic and puts forward some compelling arguments.
Cons: The show is at times repetitive and scattergun in its approach, with distractingly poor production values.
I confess, I’ve been looking forward to Assisted Suicide: The Musical partly because of its wonderfully subversive title. Friends gave me impressively uncomfortable looks and made awkward comments when I told them the title of the show. I think these brief interactions alone indicated the general discomfort around the topic of assisted suicide and why discussion and debate on the topic remain important.
In Assisted Suicide: The Musical, disabled activist, actor and comedian Liz Carr explores the controversial and much debated topic of assisted suicide using, you guessed it, musical theatre, as her format of choice. The cast consists of a sign language interpreter and four other actors who perform musical numbers and skits during the show, while Carr addresses the audience directly at times.
While I appreciate that the show may have had budgetary restrictions, I felt there were overarching problems that had more to do with the overall structure of the show and an apparent lack of rehearsal. Technical aspects of the production were distractingly bad: stage spotlights would fail to track performers or never light them at all and microphones were either too quiet, picked up excessive feedback or were left on while performers left the stage. Similarly, choreography for the musical numbers was at times rudimentary and added little to the otherwise witty songs.
On a more fundamental level, I was left unclear as to what Assisted Suicide: The Musical was trying to achieve artistically. Although the show is billed as a musical the songs didn’t add much in terms of arguments or views on the subject matter. Carr herself noted that the show was akin to a “TED talk with songs”, but these songs were discussed and deconstructed rather than allowed to stand on their own merits. The repetitive and jumbled structure of the show meant that there was no real overarching narrative. I was left feeling that the musical genre was never fully utilised as a means of challenging or informing the audience’s views.
Criticisms aside, Assisted Suicide: The Musical had some fun moments, including a hilarious duet between Carr and the Pope about the one topic on which they agree: their shared pro-life stance when it comes to assisted suicide. The show also contained some thought provoking facts and arguments, such as the amusing but horrifying skit which imagines what an NHS assisted suicide service might look like and a disturbing list of real assisted suicide synonyms thought up by pro-choice groups to make assisted suicide more palatable. These scenes sadly lost some of their power due to other, less successful, aspects of the show. For example, while interesting points were raised in the number, a song from the point of view of a healthy dog about to be put down by a vet (sung by a performer in a dog onesie) was reminiscent of a Christmas advert for a dog charity and was met with awkward, strained applause.
While it is important and impressive that Carr has created a varied show about what many consider to be a difficult topic, the repetitive nature of Assisted Suicide: The Musical and its poor utilisation of the musical format mean it is unlikely to win over more hearts and minds than a TED talk might. Indeed, as Carr is clearly a witty and persuasive speaker, I would have enjoyed a more straight-forward discussion on this important topic instead.
Written and Performed by: Liz Carr
Director: Mike Whitelaw
Composer: Ian Hill
Booking Until: This show has now completed its run.