Off to C Eca this afternoon to see “Lethal Injection,” the latest from Five One Productions and the pen of Sarah Goddard. C Eca seems rather forlorn – it is somewhat off the beaten track – but they have erected a marquee and installed a bar and set up a buffet table with slices of melon. It is a little like attending the wedding of a rich man with few friends. Both the director of “Lethal Injection” and myself are mildly concerned that I may be the only person to have bought a ticket, but at the door they insist that the director has to buy one too. It is early days, however, and “Lethal Injection” ended up playing to a reasonable audience.
Sarah Goddard? Where have I heard the name before? A quick check of that indispensable theatre resource, Tychy@ the Fringe, reveals that she wrote “The Demise of Christopher Marlowe,” which ran last year in C Central. As with Goddard’s butchering of Marlowe, “Lethal Injection” concludes with on-stage death which we have been anticipating for the whole play. Imagine that they have reintroduced the death penalty to England and that four well-spoken Englishmen were waiting to receive their last ever injection. This is not so fantastic an idea, as the “Restore Justice” campaign is currently petitioning parliament to bring back the death penalty. You could almost regard “Lethal Injection” as a theatrical pilot.
This death row contains an over-enthusiastic euthanasiast, a man who killed his wife out of jealousy, a drink-driver who has ran over so many pedestrians that it seemed conclusively murderous to his last jury, and your regular psychopath, complete with deranged and grandiose ranting. We appear to observe the regretful reconciliation of these condemned men to their fate. The psychopath, who is screechingly camp and oddly lacking in menace, is content to die because it will hasten his immortal fame as a maestro of murder. The drink-driver, who has too plum a voice to be a convincing criminal, blandly accepts his death in the absence of any reason to live. We may regard the euthanasiast as merely a lousy doctor who was unable to cope with his patients dying, but he kicks up more of a fuss about his own demise and he dies unrepentant. It does not seem to have occurred to the wife-killer to grieve for his wife, but he is dismayed at embarrassing his parents, and he looks the most anguished about his execution.
Both the acting and the writing can be relied upon, the actors work hard, and once the ball is rolling, this play acquires a pleasant intensity. There are some good lines, such as when the psychopath protests that the label “murderer” is insufficient for an artist such as himself, whilst “serial killer” is an unnecessary description because, in any case, he can only kill one person at a time. How would you spend your last weeks on death row? You could get through the best of Shakespeare, and possibly Moby Dick as well. But these people just talk – interminably exploring the motives and meanings of their crimes – with their grim prison warden acting as a chair of proceedings. Mind you, as a Fringe reviewer, the job of looking back over outrageous disasters is one that I understand.
Lethal injection is a comparatively easy means of execution, and if these men were waiting to be guillotined, they would probably not be so pernickety and long-winded. If you think that these people deserve to be punished severely, then the prospect of execution may strike you as merciful. If they were merely jailed, then they would be forever consigned to this purgatory of fruitless explaining.
[Apologies, but Tychy has yet to procure the names of the cast. Ed.]