Dead and Breathing review at Unity Theatre, Liverpool – ‘bittersweet comedy drama’
In Dead and Breathing, playwright Chisa Hutchinson takes on a tricky but timely topic with the aid of an injection of deadly noir-tinged humour.
Sharp-tongued Carolyn (Lizan Mitchell) is dying slowly from cancer and is desperate to end her life, but needs to enlist the help of her latest carer Veronika (Kim Tatum) to do the deed.
A devout Christian, albeit a potty-mouthed one, Veronika needs persuading, and over 95 minutes the two embark on a power struggle over the bubble bath and scatter cushions of Carolyn’s sumptuous boudoir.
Hutchinson’s two-hander, handsomely staged in the Unity’s compact space, is a busy play that picks its way through a minefield of moral and ethical dilemmas, emotional blackmail and religious convictions, prejudice and sexuality, punctuated by some delightfully crisp one-liners.
Mitchell, reprising the role she played in New York, is very watchable as Carolyn – miserly not with money but with compassion and kindness.
There’s an engaging energy to her delivery – an energy which Tatum, whose character throws a curve ball in to the narrative late on, needs to fully match to really balance their scenes together.
The action hits a perfect note in the scenes in which Carolyn is prompted to recall childhood trips to church. But a strange, silent hiatus at the top of the second half of Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s production deadens some of the play’s momentum, while a plot twist in the final moments is a little too contrived and neat.
Still, Dead and Breathing shows Hutchinson to be a playwright of real promise.