Watching a play depicting the final tortuous moments of two suicidal companions, may not sound like your idea of a good night out. But to say Matt Fox’s latest play, ‘To Sleep’ is about the depressing subject of suicide, is to suggest Life of Pi is about a tiger in a boat i.e. you’re missing the point.
Staged in the intimate back-room of the Victoria Pub in Swindon’s Old Town, To Sleep tells the story of 17-year old Hayley (Ellie Lawrence) and 39-year old Martin (Peter Hynds) who meet in dubious circumstances in A&E – they have both ‘hurt their wrists’.
Hayley – a predictable surly teen, spits sarcasm and unsympathetic put-downs at downtrodden Martin. She cares little for his bandaged wrists and how they met a ‘Stanley knife’: “Got to be careful with those arts and crafts” she teases.
Over 60 minutes, we learn why the pair are suicidal; leaving the audience to ponder the uncomfortable dilemma of whether there can ever be moral justification for taking one’s life.
Perfectly placed black humour is subtly peppered throughout the performance as it boldly deals with the practicalities of ending a life – ‘Hanging….paracetemol….bullet to the brain?’ The dilemma of what to wear – ‘dress …three-piece suit….rock t-shirt?’ And what details to include in a suicide note: ‘If I can raise a smile on the face of the person who has to clean this up, then I won’t feel quite as bad.’
It’s an audacious endeavour to pair suicide with humour, but Fox does that as sublimely as brie and grapes; strawberries and balsamic vinegar. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
However, there are moments where Lawrence’s over-the-top tortured teen act is irritating and it’s hard to sympathise with her character, even during the play’s final disturbing minutes. But her enthusiastic attempts to perfectly portray a suicidal teenager should be commended. She is at the start of her career on the stage and, unlike her character, she has a lifetime to get better.
To Sleep is a powerful production of tragedy, trauma, regret, life and friendship. Don’t be deterred by the uncomfortable subject matter. Undeniably, To Sleep is heart-breaking, but its tenderness makes it thoroughly watchable. It is tragic but beautiful; you’ll be pleased you went to see it.5pm & 7pm, Sunday 14th July The Victoria, Old Town, Swindon. Tickets: www.swindontickets.co.uk or www.seetickets.com
Camden Fringe: 7.30pm, Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st August The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, London, NW1 7NL Tickets: www.camdenfringe.com or 0207 383 7808