In the gentle yellow light, a man assists a woman into a single bed. He sits in a chair, besides the bed. He waits. There is silence. The lights dim.

When the lights rise, they speak.

In an awkward game of verbal table tennis. Bouncing the agenda back and forth – Can she feel anything? Is anything happening? In the tradition of Beckett – Pam (Linda Cropper) and Don (Russell Kiefel) – are in a moment of paralysis. Pam is terminally ill and has taken an illegal drug designed to help her end her suffering. She sits with her husband reminiscing about family holidays as she waits for the drug to take effect. The panic of it not working. The second guessing. The anger. An offer. A dismissal – all in the moment before a grand action. Words jar and fall.

Tom Holloway is one of Australia’s rising playwriting heavyweights, with production credits reaching all over Australia – Belvoir, Tasmania Theatre Company, Malthouse, ThinIce. The major plays winning him critical and popular acclaim include Beyond The Neck, Red Sky Morning, Love Me Tender, Don’t Say the Words, And No More Shall We Part. This play is not what I would consider new – it’s been outted to audiences at The Melbourne Fringe in 2009, and besides a minor tweaking (I believe Holloway added the marmalade moment in, in this incantation…) the play is refreshed and renewed in the hands of Griffin Artistic Director, Sam Strong.

Strong and Holloway have been in a long term creative relationship for sometime – four years, perhaps? And it is clear that there is a beautiful symbiosis between the two as artists… Strong’s has the unique capability of manifesting naturalism out of heightened poetic text (For those that Saw Speaking In Tongues, you know what I mean.) It’s also clear that Strong favours the ebb and flow of domestic dramas. By that, I mean the initmacy between two people, so it is not surprising that this play is something that Strong would focus on.

And No More Shall We Part focuses on the act and decision by a wife to choose voluntary self-directed euthanasia. Largely the play asks us to confront the questions –
Do you love your partner enough to say goodbye on their terms?
What is selfishness?
What is love?
Could you support your spouse in something that fundamentally hurt you?
What do you say to someone you are about to leave forever?
What would you say to a person about to die?

All interesting questions – and relevent to questions in our present context seeing as voluntary euthanasia is illegal in Australia.

However, there are many aspects of the play that did not appear to be very coherent to me. Dramaturgically, the premise overwhelmed the storytelling – but that I mean, the play flips between times – but only by the space of a few weeks. We see the decision and the execution and several stages of grieving. For me there was no tension between action and intention. The end of their story, though the beginning of our play – was not quite the end – and the departure from the premise (she intends to die) is not far reaching enough emotionally, or philosophically for me to really feel anything but she will achieve her ultimate goal. When she doesn’t, this twist isn’t really significant enough, as there is still room for her to try again (her decision, her choice is unchanged) and her journey flatlines. There seems never any doubt. And for Don – there seems very little doubt about his acceptance – he hasn’t really accepted this choice. And he maintains that until the end.

Does anything change between them? No.

And this for me is where my desire for transformation – or for growth – or change – is obvious. And that is my desire for the characters.

Additionally I was confused by the design by Victoria Lamb – not because it was simple, or functional – but the interior of the kitchen felt like that of a sharehouse in Ashfield more than that of a couple who could afford an illegal euthanasia drug. Additionally, the single bed looked like theatre set decore – matte black and made in a workshop out of the same materials as the chair. It seemed like purgatory furniture and even the linen seemed at odds with the decor of the kitchen. Too much detail was offered for something that needed to be only indicative of a space. And I spend sometime marvelling about how lower-middle class their house was in relationship to their upper middle class voices, language and situation.

Surprisingly also was how compliant and understanding their children were of Pam getting her own way. Not one fought. Strange. If it were my family I doubt my brother and sister would be so understanding and accepting… usually at least one of us sides with which ever parent is the underdog at the time…So I found that odd.

That being said. I am not one to emotionally disconnect with the subject matter of a play because of stylistic choices made in regards to furniture… as we all know, the play’s the thing.

The performances are impressive. Cropper’s soul-destroying sob hit me so hard, I could not help but feel all the sorrow and the empathy swell up in me… and Keifel’s Don triggered in me a response to take care of him… they are after all loveable actors. However I yearned to see what their relationship was before the illness – as that memory or story is often the thing that keeps people together through illness.

For me, this will stir and conjure many emotions and questions for those who ever wonder if they could say good bye if the choice was not their own. And for me, the play started in the wrong place and finished all too soon – Do we know if Don is relieved or resentful – angry or delighted at the end of the play? I’m still not sure.

However – Griffin has again been brave enough to offer us a unique Australian voice in the form of Holloway’s play and the performances are present and deeply personal. Strong gives much time and space for the actor’s craft – and that is always refreshing (especially in a design obsessed theatre scene). It is true that if you are searching for an emotionally intense evening, and are willing to place yourself in the position of Don and Pam, you are sure to have an intense evening and some interesting and confronting post-show conversations –

After all, isn’t that what one of the most important functions of theatre is?