By Robert Dawson Scott
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
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
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
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
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.
THE REVIEW SHOW
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
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
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
21 August 2011
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
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
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
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.
EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS
9 August 2011
By Neil McEwan
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
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
9 August 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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.
WEST END WHINGERS
12 August 2011
“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,
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
12 August 2011
By Victoria Rudland
Triple Fringe First winner Hannah Eidinow directs Chris Larner in a
poignant story about assisted suicide. Frank, unsentimental and
“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
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
EDINBURGH FESTIVALS MAGAZINE
14 August 2011
By Amiel Clarke
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
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.
THE ARTS DESK
18 August 2011
By Veronica Lee
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
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
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
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
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.
THE PUBLIC REVIEWS
By Deborah Klayman
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.
THE UNIVERSITY TIMES
By David Doyle
EXCERPT FROM: The Good, the Bad and the Magical: Edinburgh Fringe
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
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.
THE EXIT EUTHANASIA BLOG
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.
“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
“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
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