With recent news stories about the families of Tony Nicholson and Paul Lamb losing their right-to-die challenges, the time is as good as ever to debate the issue of assisted suicide and how much of a say we have pertaining to our right to choose when our life ends. Killing Roger, presented by Sparkle and Dark Theatre Company, treads familiar ground but deals with the subject sensitively, portraying with tenderness the relationship between youth and age.
In their play, Shelley Knowles-Dixon and Lawrence Illsley (who also directed and arranged the music for the piece respectively) show a friendship grow over time. From the outset, we know the ending, so the story is concerned with how we get there. Narrated by Billy (Graham Dron), who begins caring for 87 year-old Roger on a scheme but stays on as he finds himself learning from the wise man. He hears about Roger’s past, and discusses philosophy and religion with him.
Roger is played by an extraordinarily lifelike puppet operated by two people, complete with cardigan and dextrous hands. It’s fitting that a puppet is playing the character who will eventually cease to be, and he looks completely lifeless on the point of death, but I do question whether the play itself would be a success without it.
The relationship between Billy and Roger is also extremely one-sided, with the younger man learning from the older man but not vice versa. Is it not true that we can all learn from each other regardless of age? And though the representation of voluntary care is true to life and raises the issue of lack of funds, it does occasionally read like an underhand defence of the Big Society, especially seeing as Billy seems to grow as a person because of it.
These qualms aside, however, Killing Roger is a still moving production which has some strong moments of theatricality. Illsley’s distorted guitar soundtrack accompanies the darkness of the piece well, and Anna Shuttleworth’s set very clearly signposts the fictionality of events. Dron offers a keen if overly earnest performance, and is matched by the wit and charm of Nicholas Halliwell’s delivery of the voice of Roger. Though it’s a play about death, Killing Roger is surprisingly full of life.
Killing Roger is at Underbelly until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.