On paper The Suicide should be flawless. Attacking the bloodthirsty social media followers and their see-through empathy, the National would have hit it with the satirical boom it promised to be. Unfortunately it gets a bit lost in its cartoonish stereotypes and laughs to really hit home.
Sam is stuck. Stuck in his jobless misery, stuck in his marriage living with an oversexed in-law, and stuck in his overflow of self-pity. A failed suicide attempt caught on a smartphone and shared with the world later, and he is now stuck in a deal to kill himself by noon. To please the community and start a revolution, he finds himself a social media Jesus-figure about to end it all to please everyone else.
Suhayla El-Bushra’s new version of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide from Soviet Russia has the potential to unleash an irresistible satirical insight into the flaws of society today. But it is blocked by a need for slapstick humour and warm belly-laughs that sadly dilute the underlying political punches. There are many good laughs in this production but as Sam (Javone Prince) is ambushed by one laughable social caricature after the other, the play fails to really convey that the ridiculousness of the situation and everyone’s selfish motives for his suicide are frighteningly human. If they had played that instead of the comedy, the result would have been thrillingly alarming. That said, Prince does deliver a great performance as the hopeless Sam who is thrown from one type of human hyena to the other. Battling with his vocals throughout the night he holds up the fight, and with Nadia Fall’s direction and interesting animation add-ins we get a clear sense of his struggle.
Ashley McGuire plays the notorious mother-in-law Sarah with brilliant dryness and no inhibitions, and Tom Robertson is delightfully cringeworthy as the hopeless wannabe rapper Igor. Not to mention the clear hit that is Paul Kaye’s Thatcher-belly tattoo that gets occasional (off-stage) wank in the eye.
Ben Stones’s design is rich in detail but tries a little too much at times, especially with the otherwise brilliant video projection by Andrzej Goulding – its point to reflect the media’s booming influence today is clear, but together it is a tad cluttered. Helen Atkinson’s sound supports brilliantly though and Sam Jones’s live drumming through red gauze is simply thrilling.
Nadia Fall and El-Bushra are definitely on to something. The idea behind The Suicide is genius. It shines a light on the fakeness of society today and of what drives so many to end their lives in our world of benefit-failures. Stripped off some of the stereotypes and slapstick laughs, it could offer a darkly funny and immensely clever note on society today.
The Suicide is playing at the National Theatre until 25 June. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website. Photo: Johan Persson