To some, the topic of suicide is a huge taboo, while to others it is something far too close to home. When going to see a play titled ‘The Suicide’ that describes itself as ‘a total farce’, it’s hard to set up an expectation to measure the show against. I truly had no idea what I was in for. I had a general summary of the plot, and was assured it would be a comedy. ‘The Suicide, a comedy’. It seemed like an oxymoron. And yet, by the time I left the theatre, it made perfect sense. I had smiled, laughed, even clapped and cheered along. So if you have the same concerns I did, in that you’re looking for a fun night out but are aware of the dark nature of the subject matter, it’s okay. You’re in good hands at Storyhouse.
The Suicide is originally a Russian play written by Nikolai Erdman over 90 years ago. However, it’s been given a coat of fresh paint as an adaptation by writer Rebekah Harrison, who’s wonderful work has altered the play for a 2020 audience and the daily life they know too well. The original play arose straight out of the communist regime of Russia, while this version is an undeniable spawn of the western world and all corners of its extremes. We are the fly on the wall of the apartment of Simon Little, played by Tom Davey – or rather the apartment he stays in which belongs to his wife Marie, played by Natasha Bain, and shared by her disapproving mother-in-law Sarah, played by Claire Benedict.
Simon believes his life is going nowhere. He is convinced his small family would be better off if he just disappeared. He laments to other characters, only to be met with apathy. His own landlord even recommends that he do the dirty work away from the apartment as ‘death is bad for business’. This is all you need to know before meeting the other eccentric and varied characters; their only concerns coming from a place of selfishness – especially when it occurs to people that a man’s death can become exploitable to the point of profit.
The play (for the most part) takes place all in one location, that being the apartment bedroom, which accurately reflects the mind set of its inhabitants. This apartment has absolutely seen better days with its unreliable lightbulbs and it’s peeling wall paper. The back wall is stacked with packed cardboard boxes, not quite settled and yet not going anywhere anytime soon. The doors and staircase leading to the bathroom door is all old-fashioned wood. There are mismatching carpets and a messy bed dead centre. It’s tacky, and it’s a perfect fit. The dreary colours only make the flashy characters stand out all the more, a set that supports its actors.
This production introduced something I’m not sure I’ve encountered before in a theatre. During the interval we were all invited to leave the theatre and stand in the Storyhouse’s restaurant, known as The Kitchen. Waiting for us was music, bunting, and an excellent multimedia presentation with the actors weaving in between our crowd. The performance had come out with us losing none of its energy – in fact, the actors approached us face to face. We were part of the story being told, especially as this part of the show celebrated the city of Chester itself. I’m intentionally keeping the context vague so you can experience it for yourself, and I encourage that you do.
The major aspect of this play that I was so pleased with is: we were never laughing at a man committing suicide. Instead we’re laughing at everyone else; we’re laughing at the extreme side of personalities we see on a daily basis who justify their cruel actions for the sake of their self-interested agendas. From the politician lacking all empathy, to the greedy landlord, from the high up television executive detached from the real world to the fiery environmental activist who’s more angry than loving – all sides are ridiculed. My point being: no matter who you laugh at most, you’ll always end up laughing and it won’t be at a victim.
I especially commend the performances of Tom Davey and Natasha Bain. There were wild characters in this play, people who we would never meet in real life (and wouldn’t want to) but the characters of Simon and Marie are closer to home. They’re your sibling, your neighbour, your friend. What makes us appreciate how ridiculous the others are is how real and relatable the lead couple is. Although they have their own moments of ‘heightened behaviour’ shall we say, we can reel ourselves back in through them. They portray something real, which by definition makes them solid performers.
Sometimes to really recognise the absurdity of the world we know we have to take things to caricature lengths. That’s what The Suicide is. It IS a farce, it IS a comedy, and it IS a good time at the theatre.
The Suicide will be playing at Chester Storyhouse until Saturday 14th March.