Young and Suicidal is a dark comedy exploring the relationship between two lost souls who make a pact to kill themselves together. Issue-driven and written for a teen audience, the two-hander follows Natalie and Smith through their ups and downs as they prepare for their final day.
Written by director James Shaw and the cast, it is the follow up to his successful youth drama Firearms and Fingertips (review here), which was a smart and stylish cautionary tale about gun crime. Young and Suicidal doesn’t quite capture that same energy, as it switches between contemplative drama and edgy comedy. Multimedia elements, including a George Carlin sketch, vibrant soundtrack, and a nightclub scene that proves a real highlight, all work well.
At the heart of the tale is oddball Smith (Barry Mason), who calmly puts a call out online – complete with formal recruitment process – to find a suicide buddy. He is struggling after his own father’s suicide two years previously. Vodka-swigging party girl Natalie (Anna Hudson) replies; she is living with a secret that she can no longer bear.
Hudson’s charming, vivacious performance as Natalie keeps things afloat as she wrings every emotion from her characters’ journey. She is funny, sweet and sympathetic, although never really convincingly suicidal. Perhaps Smith sees this from the off, but becomes intrigued with the new influence in his life and an Odd Couple type friendship begins.
There’s a certain frustration with the character of Smith, whose poker face gives little away and seems a little two-dimensional to lead such a weighty and thought-provoking piece. And it’s unclear whether the play realises, and is tackling, the moments of banality and irony in the suicidal mind – the casual conversation about the best method for them both to choose has funny moments but is also rather glib; it would seem as if the finality of the act isn’t really sinking in. The pacing, too, is curious, with many over-long scenes in which nothing is said, or rather pointless dialogue bats back and forth, spliced with loud, energetic bursts of action.
Young and Suicidal is thought-provoking and nicely performed, but ultimately raises many more questions than it answers.
Addendum: Following on from two eloquent comments below, and a some further information from director and playwright James Shaw, it seems perhaps worth pointing out I saw this piece on its opening night, which isn’t always a fair way to assess a new work, and something I try and avoid with independent, low budget shows. Certainly, audiences over the following nights seem to have created a completely different atmosphere to the one I experienced, and were fully engaged with the show and its message. And of course with hindsight it seems a bit daft to remark on parts of the play as ‘glib’ and then moan that work about suicide ‘raises more questions than it answers’. It is a complex, massive issue and no two people’s thoughts or experiences of the subject will ever be the same. Like Shaw’s Firearms and Fingertips before it, Young and Suicidal was written to engage with a younger audience, and perhaps one not familiar with theatre, and as such had heart and real purpose. I would guess this isn’t the last we will see of this production. (September 1)