At Greenside on Infirmary Street, they are giving out little green pills as “paperless” tickets. I swallow my pill, assuming that it is LSD, and wait. But no, the play isn’t appearing.
I tell all of this to the staff but they remain unamused.
The whole of Fred Rosen’s “A Matter of Life and Death” is essentially a long argument between two young men, with only a phone and a single chess piece as props. The men are never allowed to relax or pull back from their spreading altercation, creating a play which grows unusually taut and intense for a student production.
They begin as friends. Simon (Jared More) and Paul (James Esler) are bickering pleasantly in the latter’s flat, and Simon is needling Paul about his refusal to socialise. Soon, however, everything is alarmingly on the slide. Paul has confessed that he is death – literally Death! – and that Simon has barely four months left to live. That worrying pain in Simon’s chest – well, that’s cancer!
We might believe at first that we are watching a practised conman in operation. After all, everybody suffers periodically from some kind of worrying chest pain, and Paul’s knowledge could be the same guesswork which is deployed by any faith healer. Yet a trip to the doctor corroborates that Simon is indeed dying of cancer.
This play owes its aesthetic to the tension between the realistic intensity on stage and the fabulous airiness of the story. Its plot is surely straight from a dream: I met my mate Paul and he told me that he was Death and I accepted this and he told me that I was going to die.
Whether he is sobbing or grinning, Jared More invariably has defeat written bitterly across his face like a single word. It is a generous performance: all that is required of him is a butt for the humour, but we always get significantly extra. James Esler also mixes the chemicals correctly as the destroyer of delights and the parter of companions. He is not too sinister, not too glamorous, and yet equally not too familiar and down-to-earth. He is a troubled but level-headed Death and in the end we probably quite like him. He gives the impression of doing an unenviable job conscientiously.
A quick punch of a play which leaves more of a mark than student surrealism normally does.