Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman wrote the satire, The Suicide in 1928 and Suhayla El-Bushra’s adaptation, playing at the National Theatre, has brought it bang up to date. The play is set in multi-cultural London around Clement Attlee House under the current austerity policies. The mixed media props include cartoons and graffiti-style visuals which also reflect modern life.
Sam, the main character is unemployed, living off his wife’s salary at his mother-in-law’s tiny home. Sam does a kind deed en route to the Job Centre and his benefit is sanctioned as a result. When you have little, taking that away is enough to drive one to despair, even suicide.
Sam’s attempted suicide is witnessed by local youths who dare him to jump. They, of course, captured it all on a smartphone. As is the case nowadays, there is no such thing as privacy, empathy or boundaries. The footage becomes a hashtag (#) and YouTube sensation. Then everybody wants a piece of Sam.
He is encouraged to commit suicide by an array of self-serving individuals. The group includes a trustafarian documentary maker, seeking a TV award; a stressed social worker, who wants more for mental health services; a rapper, who wants international recognition and a politician; who bears an uncanny resemblance to the London Mayor. He wants Sam to commit suicide to introduce a new private housing development.
Some of the characters are memorable. There was an outstanding performance by Ashley McGuire as Sarah, Sam’s mother-in-law and Paul Kaye as a very believable trustafarian documentary maker.
It is a very busy play, with lots going on. In the modern vein, there is an element of cultural appropriation in the show. It is a dance routine which reflects black culture but is played by white girls. There are dance scenes and music scenes and eating scenes and Maggie Thatcher scenes and more. Losing attention in places is easy.
It was funny at times, more sitcom than satire which, for the most part, was lost in the busyness. Editing would improve the play.
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