Clare Duffy‘s Some Other Stars brings a horrific human predicament home as only dramatic performance can, however unpalatable it might be as lunchtime entertainment. As one audience member relates afterwards, “terrific, but gloomy. I’ll be thinking about it all day now.”
Ian (Martin McCormick) is a man with locked-in syndrome, a condition talked of, feared and imagined, but with a distressing set of dilemmas which are easily put out of mind unless (or until) you have to deal with them. Cath (Kirstin Murray) is the wife who has to answer those difficult questions, in the mental absence of the man for whom they literally mean life or death. Which would you choose for someone in a vegetative state, especially someone with a history of depression?
Director Nicholas Bone uses a clever little device to portray this. Ian, the inner world, is McCormick, encased in a part open wooden cage, stage left. Ian, the body, the “sack of tatties”, as he refers to himself, is a figure assembled from empty plastic bottles and cardboard, spread lifeless in a hospital bed, stage right. Thus Cath can address the “vegetable” in front of her, while Ian delivers his inner thoughts to the audience, stage lights flickering on and off as he blinks yes or no.
McCormick is excellent in the role. His lilt and diction give colour to this inner world that contrasts with the outer lifelessness. Murray frets and panics, but it’s difficult to feel she’s not just an accessory to the main story thread.
Until, that is, she gives a fantastic, low-lit and miked-up monologue. Taking time out in a sensory deprivation tank (in Stockbridge, naturally), partly to get away from it all, partly to find a way to empathise with Ian, her inner world is really given voice. There’s forty years of this. What will become of her sexual fire? What is her marital and moral duty to Ian? What is her duty to her own sanity?
Thus, we are finally thrust into the deep, murky reality of this situation, where every answer is right, and every answer is wrong. Ian, as we the audience know, understands more than he can ever convey. It’s a predicament that can never be resolved happily, whatever happens.
The ending, as may be inevitable in an hour long play, feels a little rushed. There’s insufficient time to linger and truly digest how the thoughts of escape that Ian’s been harbouring throughout are reaching their conclusion. But Duffy and Bone have given a tricky topic a sensitive and enlightening treatment.