(Robert) Brian Clark W Stephen Gilbert - Essay

W Stephen Gilbert

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Broadly, the revival [of Whose Life Is It Anyway?] is timely, questions of euthanasia, 'brain death', individual rights and so on exercise the press a good deal just now and the play suggests a link with those questions. What the play doesn't do, however, is pose a dilemma. As written and played, there is no question where audience sympathies are expected to be placed. Around the question of the title is a piece of pure 'General Hospital' coy gropings between a trainee nurse and a chirpy orderly; brisk efficiency on the part of matron. But the centre of the play is 'General Hospital' too, an issue made nice, clear, bright and no contest.

For Ken Harrison is a classic West End hero. He's a sculptor, for God's sake—so he's artistic, independent, sensitive, denied the use of his hands. And he's a know-all, he has all the lines, all the anticipation and the gumption (though of course it's a disguise for the horror) to joke about his plight. No one else can match him. The play reminds me of nothing so much as a good-hearted Otherwise Engaged.

Which is a pity. Clark is a serious, diligent writer, a self-effacing reporter and researcher of people faced with the vagaries of authority and bureaucracy. He could easily have made the central character an oik; then the play would have been the richer…. As it is, the play is knocking on the West End transfer door precisely because it's a portrait of an archetypal...

(The entire section is 566 words.)