The Melbourne Theatre Company recently staged ‘The Architect’, a play written by the Australian writer, director, and dramaturg Aidan Fennessy, and directed by Peter Houghton.
It is a particularly-confronting presentation of the issues surrounding the impending death of a terminally-ill woman, Helen (Linda Cropper), who desires to ‘architect’ her own death – with dignity and under her control.
While presented as a serious and confronting issue, Fennessy has introduced a ‘perfect foil’ in the character of Helen’s husband John (Nicholas Bell), and Helen’s carer Lennie (Johnny Carr), a rugged straight-shooting Aussie who introduces both typical humour and real concern.
Family matters and secrets long carried by Helen and John, and by their son Jeremy (Stephen Phillips), as well as by Lennie, the external third party, are brought out into the open. Death can do that. Theatre can help bring it home.
The play is a convergence of two matters in no way uncommon to the experience of those facing death – great humour and deep questioning. This convergence invites the audience to reflect on their own judgements about what constitutes a good death, and what they might themselves wish for in such a circumstance. The closing scene is particularly gripping and challenging.
Outstanding performances by all four characters, and particularly by Linda Cropper, brought a standing ovation from an audience of mostly older people.
From the middle of next year, eligible Victorians will be able to end their own life under the provisions made possible through the Parliament’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill (2017). ‘The Architect’, therefore, is a well-timed production, and a welcome reminder of the ways that the arts can and do stir, inform, and shape the public imagination. It sits also within a growing body of Australian theatre attending to death matters. One upcoming example of such is Triage’s Death Trilogy, the first part of which, ‘The Infirmary’, the creation of Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy and Clair Korobacz, opens within the next week at Arts House.