PRESS QUOTES (full reviews beneath)
A wonderfully subtle and deceptively understated performance… This is story-telling of a very high order. The Times ****
It is its total lack of sentimentality that makes it so moving, and half the audience is in pieces long before the end. This was not a woman to go gently into that good night, and this is a show that reminds us that how we die is as important as how we live. The Guardian ****
Chris Larner uses his more familiar comic skills to leaven and draw us into the poignant real-life tale of his trip to a Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Financial Times ****
Intensely moving, at times overwhelming… Larner relates it all with a clear-eyed, occasionally funny, occasionally horrifying lack of sentimentality. The Independent ****
A multi-textured piece of theatre which has moments of absurdity and unexpected joy as well as sadness. Larner does not flinch from shaping intensely personal material into a pacy piece of theatre. The Scotsman ****
An Instinct for Kindness raises profound questions – about life, death, love and much more. Whatsonstage.com *****
Whatever your personal response is to Allyson’s journey and Larner’s closeness to the story, this is highly moving and engaging theatre. The List ****
Larner unflinchingly takes us through the horrors and the surprising moments of sweetness in the final days… his skill as a performer unobtrusively serving his intention as an author and his experience as a man. The Stage
The word extraordinary is misapplied and misused during the Fringe but there’s few other words that do justice to Chris Larner’s one-man show… a powerful and heart-rendering story. Edinburgh Evening News *****
Tremendously powerful and affecting. Edinburgh Evening News *****
One of the most affecting pieces of theatre this year. Ben Hoyle, The Times
THE TIMES 14 AUGUST 2011
Whether or not you have made up your mind about assisted suicide, and in particular the work of the Swiss clinic Dignitas, you would do well to consider Chris Larner’s dignified and moving account of helping his former wife, Allyson, ravaged by multiple sclerosis, to die. I doubt that your conclusions will remain unmodified.
There were grown men weeping openly in the audience and, frankly, I was one of them. It is the very normality that gets to you; those matter-of-fact descriptions of the inexorable deterioration, the shrinking horizon, the last day out and eventually the last journey.
However, this is no sentimental catalogue. It turns out that the process of going to Dignitas is expensive, difficult, even risky, no matter how settled one’s purpose. As a piece of theatre, though, An Instinct for Kindness does not only catch your attention for the facts it reveals.
On the face of it, this is the barest of theatrical essentials; a man telling a story. The black stage is hung with black drapes. There are no props, except for a single black chair, no costume, no scenery, no modish video projections.
There is just Larner, in an open-necked shirt and trousers, glasses, short haired, middle-aged, about as nondescript as you can get, even down to the flattened, dead-pan accents of the North West, where he has spent much of his working life.
But all this conceals a wonderfully subtle and deceptively understated performance.
Devised with the director, Hannah Eidinow, Larner’s play is full of clever details, a look away here, a sudden movement there, a sentence broken off midway, a simple gesture. And, though you hardly notice them, the discreet lighting changes punctuate and intensify each episode. Story-telling and ritual are the very roots of theatre. This is story-telling of a very high order.
16 August 2011
By Lyn Gardner
Last year Chris Larner took his ex-wife Allyson – with whom he had remained good friends – to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland where she ended her life. It was a life that had become unbearable because of the constant pain, indignities and limits imposed upon her by multiple sclerosis, a condition she had lived with for more than 25 years. Allyson decided that enough was enough.
Larner’s one-man show creates a vivid portrait of Allyson (“When I meet my maker, I’m having words. Faulty goods”, the almighty mess that is the British law when it comes to suicide, and of the journey to Switzerland from which Allyson did not return. The usual thing to say about fringe shows dealing with death is that they are about living, not dying. But Larner’s show is very much about dying. He tells his story simply, but with a Kitson-esque storytelling structure that constantly snakes back on itself, and with scrupulous, unflinching honesty. This is a show about fighting to die, about unendurable pain and enemas, of a room with no view, and the need we all have for a hand to hold when we finally lay our heads down.
It is its total lack of sentimentality that makes it so moving, and half the audience is in pieces long before the end. That, and because the redoubtable Allyson is so fully present in the show. Planning her own funeral, she declares: “I don’t want any stiff upper lip. I want weeping and wailing and inconsolable.” This was not a woman to go gently into that good night, and this is a show that reminds us that how we die is as important as how we live.
26 August 2011
By Ian Shuttleworth
Uncomplicated storytelling also makes a direct connection with listeners. In An Instinct for Kindness (Pleasance Dome), Chris Larner uses his more familiar comic skills to leaven and draw us into the poignant real-life tale of his trip to a Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland with his MS-suffering ex-wife.
12 August 2011
By Susan Mansfield
IN NOVEMBER, writer and actor Chris Larner accompanied his terminally ill ex-wife to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. By then, multiple sclerosis had robbed Allyson of most of her physical abilities and left her wracked by pain. With the clinic’s help, she was able to choose to end her own life.
Larner, who is best known for playing the character Clingfilm in London’s Burning, acts in his own one-man show, An Instinct for Kindness, about his experience of helping her. He may be its protagonist, but Allyson is its heroine. Diagnosed with MS while pregnant with their son George, she fought the first onslaught of the illness to become not only a mother but an inspirational drama teacher. Some 20 years later, she applied the same determination in following through on her decision to die.
She would need that determination. Even after she satisfied the stringent criteria set by Dignitas, Allyson and Larner faced a lengthy struggle to undertake the trip to Switzerland.
Given the subject matter, this play was never going to be other than harrowing, but Larner and director Hannah Eidinow (Fringe First winner for Lockerbie: Unfinished Business and What I Heard About Iraq) have managed to create a multi-textured piece of theatre which has moments of absurdity and unexpected joy as well as sadness. Larner does not flinch from shaping intensely personal material into a pacey piece of theatre.
An Instinct for Kindness is painful viewing, less because of the difficult moral territory it explores, than for the fact that it confronts head-on the impact of serious degenerative illness. It shows us a confident, capable woman, gradually worn down by pain and fear, who was angry as well as brave.
If we are to look effectively at the issue of assisted suicide, we must confront the uncomfortable reality that there are problems for which modern medicine has no solution.
25 August 2011
By Terri Paddock
According to Chris Larner, we all have an instinct for kindness, an instinct that impels us to reach out to those in suffering, to share their pain and loss.
I would hope that that’s true, of myself as much as anyone else, but I’m not sure that mine is developed enough to have done what Larner did. The play, which he wrote and performs, is inspired by his true-life experience of assisting his ex-wife Allyson, a long-term multiple sclerosis sufferer, to commit suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland last year.
The story is simply told, without sentimentality or artifice. A straight-back chair, only occasionally sat on during director Hannah Eidinow’s far-from-static production, is the sole prop. Larner takes us back and forward in time, from when he and Allyson first fell in love, through the birth of their son, the diagnosis of her condition and her physical decline, while also revealing the bureaucratic and legal necessities behind euthanasia.
An Instinct for Kindness raises profound questions – about life, death, love and much more – but it doesn’t even pretend to answer them. You leave, slightly stunned, and wondering: what would I do in Chris’ situation? Or in Allyson’s?
17 August 2011
By Anna Millar
Dignitas tale told with dignity
Last year, Chris Larner accompanied his ex-wife Allyson to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and watched as she drank a liquid that would swiftly end her life. Here, with just a simple chair as a prop, Larner recounts the days, weeks and years leading up to that final journey, touching on the physical, emotional and political effects of his wife’s illness and her decision to end her life.
There is no doubting the commitment of Larner’s performance, as he conveys the emotions of himself, Allyson, her sister and their son, George – dry humour creeping in when the reality of her decision becomes too raw to bear. Larner manages the balance well, never striving to make a deliberate political statement (though his stance is clear); rather, he lets the politics, the fear and desperation of their story speak for itself. The detail of everything is communicated without sentimentality, from the last phone message from their son, which Allyson will never hear to the tender instruction of the Dignitas nurse.
Whatever your personal response is to Allyson’s journey and Larner’s closeness to the story, this is highly moving and engaging theatre.
17 August 2011
By Gerald Berkowitz
Actor Chris Larner’s ex-wife was diagnosed with MS in 1983 but managed to live with the progressive debilitation until the combination of helplessness, humiliation and constant pain led her to Dignitas, the Swiss assisted-suicide organisation.
And although she and Larner had divorced, he joined her and her sister in the process of preparing for the departure.
Larner is obviously sincere in his sympathy for his wife, and equally frustrated and enraged by the subterfuges they had to go through to fill her request.
As he points out, suicide was decriminalised a half-century ago, but aiding and abetting wasn’t, a unique case of helping someone do something that isn’t criminal being itself criminal.
And so simple things like collecting her medical records or arranging a flight to Switzerland, as emotion-charged as they were themselves, were further darkened by the knowledge that at any point some doctor or lawyer or travel agent could turn them in.
Larner unflinchingly takes us through the horrors and the surprising moments of sweetness in the final days, the title referring to a spontaneous but much-appreciated gesture from a hotel chambermaid, his skill as a performer unobtrusively serving his intention as an author and his experience as a man.
EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS
9 August 2011
By Neil McEwan
The word extraordinary is misapplied and misused during the Fringe but there’s few other words that do justice to Chris Larner’s one-man show at the Pleasance Dome.
A powerful and heart-rendering story telling of his choice to support his ex-wife on her journey to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic.
This is undoubtedly a polemic in favour of the right to dignity and choice but it’s also a touching, tender story done with warmth, humour and a fine streak of British grit that prevents it ever moving into saccharine territory.
Though clearly in the pro camp it doesn’t duck the difficult issues and one of its greatest strengths is in dealing with the impact on others of this fatal decision.
Larner is a superb performer and puts an all too human face on what can be a dry abstract argument and does so in a tremendously powerful and affecting way.
EDINBURGH FESTIVALS MAGAZINE
14 August 2011
By Amiel Clarke
Last year, Chris Larner accompanied his chronically ill ex-wife Allyson to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic. In An Instinct for Kindness, Chris reveals the circumstances, morality and humanity surrounding the journey they made, and, in doing so, gives one of the most poignant and frank performances you are ever likely to bear witness to. This show is, simply put, remarkable, and the viewing public deserves to see it.
Euthanasia is a contentious topic, but in his touching account Larner does not presume to preach or postulate: the only words that hold judgement are those that belong to Allyson “If I ever meet my maker I want my money back – faulty goods.” The subtext of the play, however is undoubtedly a polemic in favour of our right to dignity and choice in the face of immense suffering and prolonged death.
While this is a heart-wrenching tale to be sure, the warmth and humour that laces through it makes it all the more human and astounding. With only himself and a lone chair on the stage, Larner effortlessly takes you from their first meeting to the last moments they shared, without glossing over the facts or faltering. His presence and acting is mesmerising, aided, of course, by a script that is so tight and lucidly composed that you feel swept up and carried the whole way through by its power. This is the most commanding and beautiful piece showing at the Fringe, an absolute must-see.