By Robert Dawson Scott
Rating: ****

Whether or not you have made up your mind about assisted suicide, and in particular the work of the Swiss clinic Dignitas, you would do well to consider Chris Larner’s dignified and moving account of helping his former wife, Allyson, ravaged by multiple sclerosis, to die. I doubt that your conclusions will remain unmodified.

There were grown men weeping openly in the audience and, frankly, I was one of them. It is the very normality that gets to you; those matter-of-fact descriptions of the inexorable deterioration, the shrinking horizon, the last day out and eventually the last journey.

However, this is no sentimental catalogue. It turns out that the process of going to Dignitas is expensive, difficult, even risky, no matter how settled one’s purpose. As a piece of theatre, though, An Instinct for Kindness does not only catch your attention for the facts it reveals.
On the face of it, this is the barest of theatrical essentials; a man telling a story. The black stage is hung with black drapes. There are no props, except for a single black chair, no costume, no scenery, no modish video projections.

There is just Larner, in an open-necked shirt and trousers, glasses, short haired, middle-aged, about as nondescript as you can get, even down to the flattened, dead-pan accents of the North West, where he has spent much of his working life.

But all this conceals a wonderfully subtle and deceptively understated performance.

Devised with the director, Hannah Eidinow, Larner’s play is full of clever details, a look away here, a sudden movement there, a sentence broken off midway, a simple gesture. And, though you hardly notice them, the discreet lighting changes punctuate and intensify each episode. Story-telling and ritual are the very roots of theatre. This is story-telling of a very high order.


16 August 2011
By Lyn Gardner
Rating: ****

Last year Chris Larner took his ex-wife Allyson – with whom he had remained good friends – to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland where she ended her life. It was a life that had become unbearable because of the constant pain, indignities and limits imposed upon her by multiple sclerosis, a condition she had lived with for more than 25 years. Allyson decided that enough was enough.

Larner's one-man show creates a vivid portrait of Allyson ("When I meet my maker, I'm having words. Faulty goods"), the almighty mess that is the British law when it comes to suicide, and of the journey to Switzerland from which Allyson did not return. The usual thing to say about fringe shows dealing with death is that they are about living, not dying. But Larner's show is very much about dying. He tells his story simply, but with a Kitson-esque storytelling structure that constantly snakes back on itself, and with scrupulous, unflinching honesty. This is a show about fighting to die, about unendurable pain and enemas, of a room with no view, and the need we all have for a hand to hold when we finally lay our heads down.

It is its total lack of sentimentality that makes it so moving, and half the audience is in pieces long before the end. That, and because the redoubtable Allyson is so fully present in the show. Planning her own funeral, she declares: "I don't want any stiff upper lip. I want weeping and wailing and inconsolable." This was not a woman to go gently into that good night, and this is a show that reminds us that how we die is as important as how we live.


26 August 2011
By Ian Shuttleworth
Rating: ****

Uncomplicated storytelling also makes a direct connection with listeners. In An Instinct for Kindness (Pleasance Dome), Chris Larner uses his more familiar comic skills to leaven and draw us into the poignant real-life tale of his trip to a Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland with his MS-suffering ex-wife.


COMMENTS FROM The Review Show at the Edinburgh Festival on An Instinct For Kindness included:
Denise Mina: “I thought it was brilliant”
“The direction in this absolutely makes the show”
“His performance was great”
“The writing was beautiful, I thought it was a beautiful show – really pragmatic”

Paul Morley: “You come out thinking that someone has told you a story, but you have lived it, and you have lived it really well”
“You get a real sense of that place, you get a real sense of being paralysed in life and making that decision”
“It is funny”

Marcel Theroux: “There are so many interesting observations”


25 August 2011
By Alice Jones
Rating: ****

An Instinct for Kindness
Last year Chris Larner helped his ex-wife, Allyson, to die. She had been living with multiple sclerosis for over 20 years and “needed help with everything, apart from thinking.” Having decided she could take it no more, she asked her ex-husband to help her one last time and accompany her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where she ended her life on 4 November 2010.
Larner, a writer and actor who has appeared at the National Theatre and the RSC, tells Allyson’s story in an intensely moving, at times overwhelming, one-man show. Flitting between past and present, Larner builds up a vivid picture of the doughty, blackly comic Allyson, whom he met when they were both members of the same touring theatre company in the Eighties. It’s not so much a tribute to her, though, as a play about the messy business of dying, both the ethical and emotional ins-and-outs of assisted dying and the hair-wrenching bureaucracy and practicalities – what to wear? What about that book you’re halfway through? Larner relates it all with a clear-eyed, occasionally funny, occasionally horrifying lack of sentimentality, right up to the moment Allyson is given a Swiss chocolate to take away the bitter taste of her final drink.


21 August 2011
Rating: ***
An Instinct for Kindness may also occasion sniffles. Chris Larner’s one-man show recounts the final months of his chronically ill ex-wife, Allyson, whom he accompanied to the Dignitas clinic, in Switzerland, last year. If the subject of assisted suicide makes you want to run a mile, Larner’s scrupulously honest treatment of it won’t. You rather wish you’d met the no-nonsense Allyson, who, on arriving in Switzerland, decides not to floss her teeth: “I think today I can stop worrying about dental decay.”


12 August 2011
By Susan Mansfield
Rating: ****

IN NOVEMBER, writer and actor Chris Larner accompanied his terminally ill ex-wife to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. By then, multiple sclerosis had robbed Allyson of most of her physical abilities and left her wracked by pain. With the clinic's help, she was able to choose to end her own life.
Larner, who is best known for playing the character Clingfilm in London's Burning, acts in his own one-man show, An Instinct for Kindness, about his experience of helping her. He may be its protagonist, but Allyson is its heroine. Diagnosed with MS while pregnant with their son George, she fought the first onslaught of the illness to become not only a mother but an inspirational drama teacher. Some 20 years later, she applied the same determination in following through on her decision to die.

She would need that determination. Even after she satisfied the stringent criteria set by Dignitas, Allyson and Larner faced a lengthy struggle to undertake the trip to Switzerland.

Given the subject matter, this play was never going to be other than harrowing, but Larner and director Hannah Eidinow (Fringe First winner for Lockerbie: Unfinished Business and What I Heard About Iraq) have managed to create a multitextured piece of theatre which has moments of absurdity and unexpected joy as well as sadness. Larner does not flinch from shaping intensely personal material into a pacy piece of theatre.

An Instinct for Kindness is painful viewing, less because of the difficult moral territory it explores, than for the fact that it confronts head-on the impact of serious degenerative illness. It shows us a confident, capable woman, gradually worn down by pain and fear, who was angry as well as brave.
If we are to look effectively at the issue of assisted suicide, we must confront the uncomfortable reality that there are problems for which modern medicine has no solution.


25 August 2011
By Terri Paddock
Rating: *****

According to Chris Larner, we all have an instinct for kindness, an instinct that impels us to reach out to those in suffering, to share their pain and loss.

I would hope that that’s true, of myself as much as anyone else, but I’m not sure that mine is developed enough to have done what Larner did. The play, which he wrote and performs, is inspired by his true-life experience of assisting his ex-wife Allyson, a long-term multiple sclerosis sufferer, to commit suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland last year.

The story is simply told, without sentimentality or artifice. A straight-back chair, only occasionally sat on during director Hannah Eidenow’s far-from-static production, is the sole prop. Larner takes us back and forward in time, from when he and Allyson first fell in love, through the birth of their son, the diagnosis of her condition and her physical decline, while also revealing the bureaucratic and legal necessities behind euthanasia.

An Instinct for Kindness raises profound questions – about life, death, love and much more – but it doesn’t even pretend to answer them. You leave, slightly stunned, and wondering: what would I do in Chris’ situation? Or in Allyson's?


17 August 2011
By Anna Millar
Rating: ****

Dignitas tale told with dignity
Last year, Chris Larner accompanied his ex-wife Allyson to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and watched as she drank a liquid that would swiftly end her life. Here, with just a simple chair as a prop, Larner recounts the days, weeks and years leading up to that final journey, touching on the physical, emotional and political effects of his wife’s illness and her decision to end her life.

There is no doubting the commitment of Larner’s performance, as he conveys the emotions of himself, Allyson, her sister and their son, George – dry humour creeping in when the reality of her decision becomes too raw to bear. Larner, for the most part, manages the balance well, never striving to make a deliberate political statement (though his stance is clear); rather, he lets the politics, the fear and desperation of their story speak for itself. The detail of everything is communicated without sentimentality, from the last phone message from their son, which Allyson will never hear to the tender instruction of the Dignitas nurse.

Whatever your personal response is to Allyson’s journey and Larner’s closeness to the story, this is highly moving and engaging theatre.


17 August 2011
By Gerald Berkowitz

Actor Chris Larner’s ex-wife was diagnosed with MS in 1983 but managed to live with the progressive debilitation until the combination of helplessness, humiliation and constant pain led
her to Dignitas, the Swiss assisted-suicide organisation.

And although she and Larner had divorced, he joined her and her sister in the process of preparing
for the departure.

Larner is obviously sincere in his sympathy for his wife, and equally frustrated and enraged by the
subterfuges they had to go through to fill her request.

As he points out, suicide was decriminalised a half-century ago, but aiding and abetting wasn’t, a unique case of helping someone do something that isn’t criminal being itself criminal.

And so simple things like collecting her medical records or arranging a flight to Switzerland, as emotion-charged as they were themselves, were further darkened by the knowledge that at any
point some doctor or lawyer or travel agent could turn them in.

Larner unflinchingly takes us through the horrors and the surprising moments of sweetness in the final days, the title referring to a spontaneous but much-appreciated gesture from a hotel chambermaid, his skill as a performer unobtrusively serving his intention as an author and his experience as a man.


9 August 2011
By Neil McEwan
Rating: *****

The word extraordinary is misapplied and misused during the Fringe but there's few other words
that do justice to Chris Larner's one-man show at the Pleasance Dome.

A powerful and heart-rendering story telling of his choice to support his ex-wife on her journey to
Switzerland's Dignitas clinic.

This is undoubtedly a polemic in favour of the right to dignity and choice but it's also a touching, tender story done with warmth, humour and a fine streak of British grit that prevents it ever moving into saccharine territory.

Though clearly in the pro camp it doesn't duck the difficult issues and one of its greatest strengths is in dealing with the impact on others of this fatal decision.

Larner is a superb performer and puts an all too human face on what can be a dry abstract argument and does so in a tremendously powerful and affecting way.


9 August 2011
By Ben
Rating: ****

In November 2010 Chris Larner’s ex-wife Alison at the age of 60 died in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Alison in the final few years of her life was trapped in a living hell of constant pain, immobility and loss of toilet control resulting from MS contracted at the age of 33. Present at her assisted suicide were Chris and Vivienne, Alison’s sister, who fortuitously in the circumstances was a nurse. Not present was George, Chris and Alison’s son, who right up until the day his mother died did not want her to end her life.

Chris Larner’s solo performance play traces the events leading up to Alison’s death. This family tragedy encapsulates in a very personal and direct way the contrasting viewpoints around this emotive issue. As such, it provides spellbinding and thought provoking theatre. Despite the play’s serious content, he takes every opportunity to introduce ironic humour and this avoids over-sentimentality. His description of the process leading to the final journey to Switzerland revealed that it is not easy or cheap to take the assisted suicide route.

He subtly poses questions as to how the establishment as represented by Government and Social Services is really in denial that there is a problem in relation to the terminally ill and, as a consequence, we can deduce for ourselves that there needs to be a proper debate in clarifying the law in relation to suicide.

It is a frightening prospect for us all to contemplate that if we ever reached Alison’s condition and contemplated suicide and, despite the provision of careers, the solution from Social Services would be counselling. In the years ahead with cutbacks planned, what provisions for the terminally ill will be provided?


9 August 2011
Rating: *****

If ever a show is truly deserving of a 5 star review and classic praise phrase, it is this one-man show by Chris Larner. In an empty room with just a chair, he beautifully and creatively shares the story of his ex-wife’s struggle with multiple sclerosis and the arduous journey to terminate her life at Switzerland’s Dignitas Clinic. The result is nothing short of perfection, and a privilege to witness this stunning portrayal of tragic and profound truth.

The performance is honest, simple and elegantly written, with an impeccable balance between laughter and emotionally touching moments. These moments are modestly administered, sitting long enough to impact, but he does not milk them. I was hanging onto his every word, gesture and expression as he creates such a vivid picture of his wife Allyson without costume or makeup. The effect is haunting and more effective than I could ever imagine a man acting as a woman could be, and the room wept unashamedly.

Unusually, I do not have a bad word to say about this show; it is literally numbing and it is difficult to articulate exactly how powerful this performance is without recommending you see it for yourself


By Clare Maddox

There's something almost too intimate about a show in which a man talks about his ex-wife's terminal illness and her decision to end her life at the Swiss clinic Dignitas, but Chris Larner is
engagingly honest and direct in recounting his experience.

There are no cloying eulogies, as Larner paints a witty no-nonsense picture of his relationship with Allyson, which is all the more moving for being grounded in reality. The show is tightly directed, and though obviously emotional, it isn't simply a cathartic outpouring of one man's grief. Larner gives us a straightforward account of the progression of Allyson's illness and relates the difficulties they encounter following her decision to go to the clinic.

While his anger at the 'sanctity of life' brigade is clear, Larner doesn't indulge in a rant about assisted suicide; he knows that simply recounting his ex-wife's experience -at times without sparing even the most graphic details - is enough to explain his position. He highlights his frustrating experiences with wary officialdom, and powerfully conveys Allyson's fear of being stopped by the police before she makes it to Switzerland.

Larner's dry wit surfaces at the most unlikely moments, but he never allows it to obscure the profound emotions involved, and it's almost unbearable to watch as he describes their son's reaction to Allyson's decision and the subsequent anguished phone calls to Switzerland.

Alongside the usual comedy skits and political tirades at the Fringe, this show stands out as a superb and moving exposition of the universal themes of human kindness and courage in the face of death.


11 August 2011
By Edd McCracken
Rating: ****

When the end comes, it comes with neither sentiment nor saccharine, but with snot, poison and a paperback novel in a blue-gray portakabin.

Last year, former London's Burning actor Chris Larner accompanied his ex-wife Allyson to the Swiss assisted-dying clinic, Dignitas. On November 9, she swallowed a cocktail of chemicals and died.

She had suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for decades, and the last years of her life were spent in pain, housebound and in a wheel chair.

In the re-telling of this traumatic and controversial incident Larner has fashioned a humbling, moving one man show. Its power comes from its restraint. Larner is alone, bare feet, on stage. The only prop is a chair.

There is very little grandstanding or preaching on the ethics of euthanasia. The only words about the morality of her choice come from Allyson herself, whom Larner plays with an admiral lack of gloss. On God, or his non-existence, an aching Allyson says: “If I ever meet my maker I want my money back – faulty workmanship”.

The script is tight and lucid—his son comes into the world as a "miraculous wriggling aubergine"—and it is funny too. Without the frequent asides and humorous vignettes, Larner's tale would sink under its own sadness. It is a warm story, told with the honesty of a family member.

Quiet sobs pepper the audience. Those that resist are crushed with a final gesture of the hand at the curtain call. As Larner bows, he simply points to the empty chair. And darkness falls. 


12 August 2011
Rating; *****

 “So, what is it?” asked Phil as the Whingers took their seats for An Instinct For Kindness.

“It’s about a man who takes his ex-wife to Dignitas.”

Cue sound of lead balloon crashing through the seat.

Of all the comedy, the froth, the entertainment, the conjuring, the variety available on the Fringe (the Whingers heard a rumour yesterday that one show includes plate spinning – when did you last see that on stage? Probably never if you’re under 35) why this?

Yet by the time its 70 minutes the lead balloon has been miraculously winched back into its customary position of just above Andrew’s head, poised to plummet at the next suggestion offered by him about anything, however casually.

Chris Larner’s (remember the character Cling Film from London’s Burning? Nor do we but never mind.) one man show tells the story of how his ex-wife’s life became intolerable for her due to Multiple Sclerosis and how he helped her to take one final journey to the famed Portakabin-type clinic in Switzerland.

Surprisingly and thankfully it is a sad tale told occasionally with great wit. Never mawkish but often deeply moving, Larner’s prose and delivery combine to paint indelible visions of the people and the settings. The next morning the Whingers could still see in their tiny minds the scenery from the hotel window, a room of discarded zimmer frames, the cup of the fatal liquid.

There is also a lot of very interesting detail about the Dignitas process and the astonishing obstacles that  have to be overcome for someone to make it there at all due to the English laws prohibiting the abetting of an act of suicide. These discourage the necessary notaries and medical and care staff from co-operating in even the most passive capacity.


12 August 2011
By Victoria Rudland
Rating: ****

Low Down
Triple Fringe First winner Hannah Eidinow directs Chris Larner in a poignant story about assisted suicide. Frank, unsentimental and thoroughly engaging.

“If I ever meet me maker, I’m havin’ words. Faulty workmanship. I want me money back.”

On a black stage, empty but for a single chair, Chris Larner tells us how, last year, he accompanied his ex-wife, Alison, to Dignitas: the Swiss organisation for assisted dying. In this unsentimental but moving playlet, he talks about his ex-wife’s physical decline after a long battle against MS and explains the travails of getting through the Dignitas system: the paperwork, legalities, expense, time, secrecy – and the dread of being found out and prevented from fulfilling your intentions.
Though Larner is alone on a stage with no set, we’re never bored – our attention doesn’t waver for a moment. For an hour, he speaks directly to the audience, holding us in the palm of his hand. His delivery is matter-of-fact but energetic, the pace and tone of the play varied, and he frequently interrupts his story with portrayals of other characters: a Swedish doctor, a chambermaid, a waiter, as well as a candid treatment of his no-nonsense ex-wife. He nimbly dips in and out of the narrative, juggling characters admirably and keeping it all alive, all credible at once.
It’s a highly controversial subject to tackle. And some moralisers will no doubt take exception and say how dreadful it is that Larner has made a Fringe show out of his ex-wife’s death. But given the issue of assisted suicide is so contentious and one that’s perhaps easy to make a snap judgement about, it’s surely important for one who has known the reality of it – the reality of an unbearable life, the reality of the whole system and the actual procedure – to share that experience, that others may be better informed and able to take a more educated stance.
Informative and engaging, this bittersweet, strangely uplifting tale is told with much eloquence and truth. Much of the audience was in tears – one man completely overcome and breaking down repeatedly throughout. What makes it so affecting is that Larner is not trying to make us cry. He’s simply telling a story and is, for the most part, quite upbeat and often very funny. It’s a challenge to make a story about assisted suicide this buoyant and entertaining, but Larner gets the balance spot on.


14 August 2011
By Amiel Clarke
Rating: *****

Last year, Chris Larner accompanied his chronically ill ex-wife Allyson to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic. In An Instinct for Kindness, Chris reveals the circumstances, morality and humanity surrounding the journey they made, and, in doing so, gives one of the most poignant and frank performances you are ever likely to bear witness to. This show is, simply put, remarkable, and the viewing public deserves to see it.

Euthanasia is a contentious topic, but in his touching account Larner does not presume to preach or postulate: the only words that hold judgement are those that belong to Allyson “If I ever meet my maker I want my money back – faulty goods.” The subtext of the play, however is undoubtedly a polemic in favour of our right to dignity and choice in the face of immense suffering and prolonged death.

While this is a heart-wrenching tale to be sure, the warmth and humour that laces through it makes it all the more human and astounding. With only himself and a lone chair on the stage, Larner effortlessly takes you from their first meeting to the last moments they shared, without glossing over the facts or faltering. His presence and acting is mesmerising, aided, of course, by a script that is so tight and lucidly composed that you feel swept up and carried the whole way through by its power. This is the most commanding and beautiful piece showing at the Fringe, an absolute must-see.


14 August 2011
Rating: *****

A barefoot man, a naked stage and a chair. I would not call it a play; nor is it fair to say that Chris Larner is acting. He tells the true story of his ex-wife’s terminal illness and eventual resolution to commit suicide. It is tragic and wonderfully written with tangible honesty, and as his eyes shine with tears, mine do too; however, the careful humour employed sweetens the grave seriousness of it all. A talent that can draw in an audience so completely must not be underestimated. There is quiet dignity in the way assisted suicide is portrayed, leaving every viewer with their own moral dilemma. I have never been so enthralled; for one hour and ten minutes I wholly felt another person’s pain.


18 August 2011
By Veronica Lee
Rating:  ***

Writer and actor Chris Larner is either a brave or a foolish man, depending which way you view his decision to perform his one-man show telling the story of his ex-wife’s death, as it's possible he could be prosecuted for aiding her suicide. Although divorced from the mother of his son some years ago, they remained good friends and he agreed to help her when she decided to go to Dignitas in Zurich to end her life after decades of suffering pain, disability and indignity through the ravages of multiple sclerosis.

In 70 minutes, which whizz by under Hannah Eidinow’s assured direction, Larner tells Allyson’s story - for this is her story, not his - in simple, unemotional language, with just the right degree of wry wit; he describes Switzerland as where “they dust the motorways”. There is the occasional pleasing rhetorical flourish, too, such as when Larner goes into a Night Mail-esque rhyme about the paraphernalia - drugs, nappies, wheelchair - he and Allyson’s sister have to take to Switzerland. The wheelchair comes back empty, of course.

I found myself strangely unmoved by this show (although many around me were sniffling, and a few quietly sobbing), partly because I didn’t fully gain a sense of Larner’s loss and partly because I’ve been on board with assisted dying for some time, so there was no great emotional or moral leap for me to make. For those who are conflicted on the subject, I suspect An Instinct for Kindness will have a deeper impact. Until 29 August


21 August 2011
By Alice de Cent
Rating: *****

Last year Chris Larner accompanied his ex-wife and lifelong friend, Allyson, to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, where she ended her decades-long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. In An Instinct For Kindness he tells the story of her life and death.

Taking no overt political stance on the issue of assisted suicide that surrounds Allyson’s decision to end her life, the play is fundamentally a human story. With a respectful lack of sentimentality, Larson’s script does not shy away from any of the clinical and possibly discomforting details, remaining unwaveringly honest throughout.

With a cleverly snaking structure, the play is compelling to the end. Using nothing but a chair for a prop, Larson portrays all the characters of the story – including the inimitable Allyson – with the simple precision of a consummate storyteller. Larson’s performance betrays a remarkable warmth and vitality, and is an absorbing insight into the daily bureaucratic frustrations of the process, as well as a testament to the strength and good humour people can show in the face of extraordinary situations.

Hannah Eidinow’s excellent direction has created a crisp and affecting story that had moved much of the audience to tears by the end. Powerful because of its unflinching commitment to an authentic rendering of Allyson’s life and death, it is the show’s integrity that makes it so touching.

An Instinct For Kindness is a story of intense emotions, but Larson’s frankness and warmth never lets it stray from the truth of the matter, thoroughly engaging the audience and engendering a personal understanding of this very important story.


24 August 2011
By Tom Moyser
Rating: ****

A Sad Story Well Told
I don't feel entirely comfortable reviewing An Instinct For Kindness. Chris Larner's deeply moving one-man-show, retelling his trip with his ex-wife to Dignitas, the clinic for assisted suicides, somehow seems too personal to critique. It is a man recounting in vivid and harrowing detail the hardest experience of his life. Who am I to say how well he’s done it? But however difficult it is to review, it must have been exponentially harder to write and even worse to perform. For this alone
it deserves praise - and it's also a great piece of theatre.

Both Larner's writing and his performance are magnificent. The beginning of the show is in the most natural of language, sacrificing in fact some of the inventiveness and imagination we later learn Larner is capable of, in favour of straightforward delivery and patter not of an experienced writer, but of an ordinary man reciting a difficult but oft-told anecdote. Larner acts as both first-person narrator and as every character in the story – his ex-wife Allyson with her wonderful, cynical humour; various family members; and even the Swiss doctors and nurses who attend to them. Each character is beautifully imagined in their environments, seamlessly implying whole dialogues through the reactions of only one party. It is probably one of the best performances by a
single actor at this year's Fringe.

The play, however, has set itself a limit that places a glass ceiling over its aspirations. In order to treat its topic well, it does not let itself be too experimental, nor does it let it lift itself to dizzy new theatrical heights. It just tells us things straight. It takes a topic that should involve us and move us, and treats it as we'd expect. This is by no means a problem or a failure, but it is a limitation – the thing that makes this a four-, rather than a five-, star show. I went into the theatre thinking that assisted suicide was a sad but sometimes necessary thing, and I left thinking just that, having learnt very little.

But this limitation is entirely appropriate: the ending, death, is inevitable, as is bereavement – there are no surprises or final flourishes, just a full stop. It doesn't need, or particularly want, to be a five-star show – it wants to tell a story. 'I want weeping,' says Allyson as she describes her funeral, 'I want wailing, I want people to be incon-friggin-solable.' Chris Larner gives her just that – it is everything it needs to be.


By Deborah Klayman
Rating: ****

Given the nature of this piece it was never going to be a barrel of laughs, yet Chris Larner’s true story of his ex-wife’s trip to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic has a lot more humour in it than you might expect. Witty, observant and extremely moving, An Instinct For Kindness explores the ethical dilemmas and bureaucratic idiosyncrasies that have to be navigated when someone chooses to end their life.

Larner’s ex-wife, Alison, a chronic MS sufferer (yet technically not terminally ill) made the decision to go to Dignitas when she could no longer stand her body’s decline and the constant pain she was suffering. Accompanied by Larner and her sister she made her own decision about her death, in spite of the difficulty and expense, and clearly had her family’s support.

Engaging from the first and moving to the last, Larner interweaves his narrative with snapshots from Alison’s life and their life together. Using a single chair as his only prop and set, the simplicity only adds to the charm and human nature of this incredibly personal piece, and the emotion in the room by the end is palpable. I would defy anyone to leave that theatre without a tear in their eye or lump in their throat.


By David Doyle

EXCERPT FROM: The Good, the Bad and the Magical: Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011
If you’ve ever been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, you’ll know it’s a somewhat overwhelming experience with hundreds of shows on offer.  Indeed the festival brochure extends to a little over three hundred and fifty pages and having never been to the Festival before, I was determined to pack as much in as I could over the course of my short visit.  Ploughing my way through over twenty shows, I managed to experience the wonderful highlights of this year’s festival as well as the mindboggling lows of shows with incomprehensible plots, awful acting and surreal sets.  In fact the Fringe wouldn’t quite be the same if you didn’t see both the best and worst of what’s on offer so here’s my picks for the best and worst of the Edinburgh Fringe 2011.
The Best
An Instinct for Kindness
The true story of a woman’s trip to end her life in the Dignitas Clinic performed by her husband who accompanied her, An Instinct for Kindness was undoubtedly one of the most emotionally engaging pieces of the festival.  With only a single wooden chair on stage, all the focus was on the words and it was truly powerful.  Managing to focus primarily to the personal emotions whilst not shirking the political implications of the piece, the show managed to tread the line it needed to. Leaving large swathes of the audience in tears or in stunned silence, An Instinct for Kindness managed to achieve everything it set out to and more besides.

8 August 2011

41,689 performances. 2,542 shows. 258 venues. One death.
This month, the number of people in Edinburgh is set to triple as it hosts its enormous Festival Fringe. Spanning comedy, serious drama and light entertainment as well as dance and music, the Festival has something for everyone amid its 41,689 performances of 2,542 shows in 258 locations around the city. There are over 21,000 performers: one of them is Chris Larner.

An Instinct for Kindness
Last year, Chris accompanied his terminally ill ex-wife to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic. This moving, bittersweet show reflects on the circumstances, morality and humanity surrounding the journey. Called ‘An Instinct for Kindness,’ the piece is directed by triple Fringe First-winner, Hannah Eidinow. Chris Larner is a writer, actor and director. His stage work includes Alice in Wonderland (RSC); Wind In The Willows (National Theatre) and he has also worked in television.

“Allyson arrived back at my flat a fortnight later.  Or rather, a version of her.  It was sooner than I had imagined.  Damn efficient, the Swiss.  We’ll take her up to the Chevin, when the time is right.  Me and the family.  We’ll say some words while the Yorkshire wind takes her . . .

The real value of this production is maybe that it brings the reality of assisted suicide into our everyday life, at a time when we would expect to be too busy to confront such issues. With today’s hectic lifestyles, it is easy to avoid thinking about such things until it is too late, until tragedy threatens ourselves or someone close to us. And while reading about the subject might help, a live dramatisation helps us to invest emotionally, to see it through the eyes and time of those affected, and more clearly imagine how we ourselves would come to terms with such a situation in our lives.

Reviewers comments:
“I really enjoyed this show. Sad, funny & bittersweet, it is powerful, emotive, thought-provoking and not nearly as depressing as it had the potential to be. In fact, it is often more humourous than sad, and always interesting and engaging. ‘Alison’ is truly brought to life and the performance is a great celebration of her and a real insight into her condition and the journey she ultimately took to Dignitas in Switzerland.”

“There’s something almost too intimate about a show in which a man talks about his ex-wife’s terminal illness and her decision to end her life at the Swiss clinic Dignitas, but Chris Larner is engagingly honest and direct in recounting his experience.”


10 August 2011
By Alfla

100-Word Fringe: “An Instinct For Kindness” at Pleasance Dome
Odd theatre moment 1,407: myself and a complete stranger, sitting beside each other in silence as the show ended, afraid to move in case we burst into tears. Which is probably all you need to know about An Instinct For Kindness. Last year Chris Larner accompanied his wife Alison to Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic. Larner’s performance, flitting between himself and Alison, is gutteral not just in its theme but in its detail: Alison’s desperate attempts to stand up, the unending paperwork of the application process, even the discarded wheelchairs and canes at the clinic itself. A gut-wrenching, necessary education.