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Review: Dead and Breathing

The European debut of Dead and Breathing by Chisa Hutchinson took place in the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on  7 February 2018.

Dead and Breathing by Chisa Hutchinson

This captivating 90 minute play is not afraid to tackle the big issues of life and death, gender, religion and everything in between. The main subject matters of terminal illness and assisted suicide are not what one would expect theatre goers to find humorous however, this two-hander play is admirably performed by two black women actors: the multi-award winning film and stage actress Lizan Mitchell, (whose credits include: The Wire, The Good Wife, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Kim Tatum (aka Mzz Kimberley) known for Summer in London, Cold Feet, and EastEnders.

At 68, Carolyn Whitlock (Lizan Mitchell) is a privileged older woman who has decided that she has had enough of life. She has spent her life using her wealth to gain her every advantage and so when she decides that she wants to arrange the timing of her own death, she starts looking for a willing participant to assist her in her plan. After two years in a hospice she returns to her home to die and quickly becomes dissatisfied when 16 hospice nurses refuse her offer to become a potential accomplice in her plan to end her life. Surprised that her skills of people manipulation fail her she discovers new hope of death when her new nurse Veronika (Kim Tatum) is prepared to consider to her proposal.

The two women engage in a tug of war negotiation over the right to die if the price is right and the concept of life as a gift when Carolyn offers Veronika her $87 million fortune and house as an incentive to perform the deed. Facing the temptation Veronika has to wrestle her Christian morality against the pampered Carolyn’s sense of entitlement.

The old Carolyn Whitlock becomes cantankerous and difficult when she finds herself working harder than she ever has in her life to get someone to help her to end her life, especially  upon discovering that Veronika is transgender, where after Carolyn retreats to her privileged judgemental position pitted against her nurse. 

This is a brilliant play full of dark humour that questions morality and mortality, where the theatre audience, along with the characters, learn about themselves and others.

Hutchinson’s words and the staging is important to but it is the on stage chemistry in the individual performances of Lizan Mitchell and Kim Tatum that vibrantly brings this play to life. The turn of a shoulder, the sharp look, the mesmerising changing of bed sheets, the unexpected softness that arrives on their faces in the middle of their morality battle are the extra highlights of this sublime performance. 

It is for a combination of these reasons that the play ended to a standing ovation.

Dead and Breathing runs at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool until 17 Feb 2018 after which it will be performed in The Albany Theatre, London 20 Feb – 03 March 2018.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018