Kill Me Now

Brad Fraser
Park Theatre

Greg Wise (Jake) and Oliver Gomm (Joey) Credit: Alex Brenner
Jack McMullen (Rowdy) and Charlotte Harwood (Twyla) Credit: Alex Brenner
Greg Wise (Jake) and Charlotte Harwood (Twyla) Credit: Alex Brenner

Brad Fraser is not afraid to take on difficult subjects and Kill Me No, playing in Park 200, is hardly a barrel of laughs, although it is adorned with some rich humour.

As it starts in Toronto today, Greg Wise's Jake Sturdy is ministering to his severely handicapped son Joey, a teen struggling with puberty in the toughest of circumstances.

Oliver Gomm gives an exceptional performance as a boy with mental limitations trapped in an inadequate body. His portrayal of intense frustration is remarkable and deserves the attention of awards panels.

Jake is a teacher who had written a semi-autobiographical novel around the time of Joey's birth. His life though changed forever when his mother and wife were killed in an accident.

This condemned him to a lifetime as a carer looking after not only the infant but also his own sister Twyla, played by Charlotte Harwood.

By the time that the play opens, Twyla is filling in the caring gaps and enjoying rather too many glasses of Jack Daniels for comfort.

Two other figures loom large. When Jack takes Tuesday nights off to play hockey (or more accurately hookey) he gets lost along the way and spends evenings with Anna Wilson Jones's Robyn, a devoted former pupil with a family of her own.

A less likely helpmate arrives in the form of Joey's mildly retarded schoolfriend, Jack McMullen's often hilarious Rowdy. His main handicap is a subtlety bypass which means that he says what he thinks, often only realising the consequences afterwards. He does though have a good heart.

What initially appears to be a wry look at the experiences of a young man in a wheelchair and his devoted father takes an even darker twist.

Jack, the rock amongst the incredibly inappropriately named Sturdys, is afflicted with a wasting disease that soon renders him little more capable than the lad.

By the later stages of a deeply uncomfortable but gripping production, courtesy of Manchester Royal Exchange founder Braham Murray, the power has shifted down the generations.

Rowdy and Joey are practically ruling the roost, as Jack goes downhill, Twyla needs a rest and Robyn offers moral rather than physical support.

Brad Fraser has written a brave, thoughtful play that shines a light on human frailty and our incredible capacity for endurance. It may not be an easy night out but it is worth the investment of a couple of free hours, especially to see Oliver Gomm and Greg Wise delivering outstanding performances.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher