I don’t think that someone is going to push me
And truthfully that isn’t what I fear
It’s worse, it’s that I’ll choose to die
A willing volunteer
These are the closing thoughts of Assisted Suicide: The Musical, a musical that lit-up the stage at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne for the 2017 Comedy Festival.
The definition of ‘black humour’, Assisted Suicide takes the opportunity to make a song and dance about the dangers of legalised Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (EAS).
Directed by Mark Whitelaw with music by Ian Hill, the writer behind Assisted Suicide is English born disability rights campaigner and comedian Liz Carr, best known for her role as Clarissa Mullery in BBC’s crime thriller Silent Witness.
Assisted Suicide rocks between broadway-style numbers and heart-wrenching poignancy, brought to a climax in the final scene, with Liz singing – “Don’t show me the door/Keep it locked/I don’t want to decide.”
Described as a “Ted Talk with show tunes”, Assisted Suicide is not a show for everyone. There is a liberal dose of tongue-in-cheek sexuality, including a sultry cabaret number by “Palliative Claire”, confronting language, and a scene where Liz sings a duet with the Pope, showcasing their clashing worldviews, including same-sex marriage (“I believe in Adam and Eve/I believe in Adam and Steve”), ordination of women (“Women should never be ordained/For a man in a dress that is logically strained”) and, of course, clerical sex abuse (“Every sperm is a sacred thing/Even for priests in a pedophile ring?”)
In short, it would not be a Catholic organisation’s official suggestion for this Mother’s Day. However, for those who are on the fence on the EAS debate, Liz Carr’s musical offers an articulate and engaging take.
In fact, Liz offers an entry point for a growing audience who think that opposition to EAS comes only from religious quarters. Liz acknowledges that these voices are often marginalised as being “only religious”.
“If the only opposition [to Euthanasia] is perceived as religious then, rightly or wrongly, this perspective is viewed as less valid,” she said.
Gay, disabled and formidably intelligent and articulate, Liz is not a voice easily ignored in the public space.
Yet, despite this, Liz was nervous about the reception of Assisted Suicide: The Musical.
“I was really frightened, actually. Because when you say ‘I don’t want this to be legalised. I don’t want to give doctors or the State more power over life and death,’ you get called some quite horrible things. People say, ‘You must be lacking in compassion. Why would you stop me and my right?’ It is quite hard to put yourself front and centre,” she said.
Assisted Suicide tackles this reality unflinchingly. At one point, a “Heckler” hurls abuse at Liz for her opposition to EAS. She is called “cruel”, accused of “wanting people to die in pain” and denounced for “forcing her opinions on others”.
This scene highlights the reality of being on the perceived “dark” side of the EAS debate. Any person who has been on the receiving end of such hostile name-calling due to their (usually non-liberal) convictions, will intuit the point that Liz is trying to make.
“If you’re pro-Assisted Suicide, you can say you support it because it’s about ‘choice’ or you want to prevent ‘pain and suffering’. But I’ve had to make a 90 minute musical to explain all the reasons that I, as a disabled woman, am opposed to the legalisation of Assisted Suicide,” she said.
While touching on some very dark moments, Assisted Suicide remains a comedy.
The most brilliant stroke of wit is an imaginary recreation of the board meeting of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, where they brainstorm younger, sexier, “so hot right now” euphemisms for “suicide”.
When it is revealed that the top five – ‘Dying with Dignity’, ‘Humane Self-Chosen Death’, ‘Self-Deliverance’, ‘Rational Suicide’ and ‘Dignicide’ – were real options suggested by the Societies in 2014, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
After six years in the making, Assisted Suicide: The Musical has done what Liz intended – that is, to get people talking and thinking about Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.
“We’ve done 10 shows in the UK and the majority of them have been sold out,” she said. The 800 strong audience at the Royal Festival Hall, London gave a standing ovation.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it. Obviously not everyone will agree with my perspective, but to have people listen and enjoy the show felt quite overwhelming,” she said.
Liz has been encouraged by the animated responses in Melbourne.
“I know many have left the show and then furiously debate the issues with their friends in the bar! That’s all I can ask for really, that the show provokes debate and thought and discussion.”
One such person is senior theatre critic for The Age, Cameron Woodhead, who wrote: “I thought I knew where I stood on the assisted suicide debate, but her fierce intelligence, erudition and sardonic wit left me much less certain.”
Liz and the cast chose Melbourne as the place to stage the musical in response to Victorian premier, Daniel Andrew’s plan to introduce a conscience vote on EAS later in 2017.
“This felt like the perfect time to bring the show to Victoria,” said Liz.
“We’re going to have a seat available for Daniel Andrews every night,” she told me before the musical’s run.
“An hour and half of his time is all we’re asking for – what’s he got to lose?”