Review by Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck
A story about the last days of a cellist dying of cancer? If that sounds deeply depressing, don’t be put off because although the play Killing Time currently running at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, deals with the big questions of life, death and the human legacy it is told with such piquant black humour that it not only holds the audience from the outset but also entertains them.
This is mainly because of the stellar performance of Brigit Forsyth who plays Hester Brook, the once well-known cellist who ostensibly wants nothing but to be left alone in her untidy flat to cope with her own life’s last movement. She is a difficult old bird who swears, makes caustic jokes, Skypes her best friend ( and later mourns his death), watches day time TV, quaffs quantities of rioja, eats crisps, gets drunk – all to kill time.
She also plays her cello – and one of the things which distinguishes this play and makes it special is the incorporation of this live cello music into the production, lending as it does an atmosphere of sombre melancholy which perfectly balances the bawdiness of Hester’s acerbic wit. The fact that Brigit Forsyth is an extremely talented cellist also gives the role the ultimate veracity and I defy anyone not to feel a thrill when, with great aplomb, the first notes from the Elgar Cello Concerto ring out. Later Hester plays some of Faure’s Élérgie which also subtly underlines her loneliness.
Her solitude however, is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Sara, the strange young quasi-social worker she neither expects nor wants. Sara is played by Brigit Forsyth’s real-life daughter Zoe Mills who also wrote the play (her first) and she too brings great talent to a complex role, for it becomes apparent that Sara, a friendless young woman who relies heavily on cyberspace, hides some very dark secrets.
In spite of herself Hester becomes intrigued by this troubled girl and an uneasy relationship between the two women develops. When Hester learns that Sara has helped a number of old people to die, she hopes Sara will offer her the same blessing – because ending her own life is something she cannot bring herself to do.
Instead, having heard her play, Sara helps her to leave something positive to posterity.
What she leaves is a piece for cello, Heart Time which Brigit Forsyth herself actually composed. (A CD is enclosed in the programme.) Hester complains at one point that although she has performed with great orchestras all over the world she was merely a puppet, playing the music of others – Heart Time however is her very own creation – and a fitting legacy for her life.
Anthony Eden’s direction of Killing Time is smooth and effective and the incorporation of projection, video and a revolving stage add valuable dimensions to this production. The set is untidy and sombre – as it should be. Possibly the play tries to incorporate too many diverse elements (the impact of the digital age, feminism etc.) but all in all, it is a triumphant debut which succeeds in presenting a difficult subject with both humour and humanity.
Killing Time by Zoe Mills runs until 4th March at
The Park Theatre
London N4 3JP
Tel 0207 870 6876