A simple production, A Life Twice Given stretches itself to do justice to a very complicated idea, with only limited resources and space. In some ways, it doesn’t manage to do so – the dialogue is clunky, the design choices basic, and the acting largely ineffective. However, the concept itself is towering, and just about enough to carry the performance into watchability.
A mostly engaging, unusual piece of theatre.
The story’s brave exploration of such huge ideas as death, life, identity, bereavement, parenting and trauma make for an intense experience, and the angle at which it comes at them is interesting. It has so much potential to be uniquely thought-provoking and emotive, that the mere ghost of that effect which is realised suffices to make it worth seeing. Given more input to be developed, I really feel it could be something special.
Some of the faults must be laid at the playwright’s feet, as the whole piece comes across more like a storyboard plan than a refined final draft, and the result is somewhat messy. It errs on the side of flat-out telling you what you need to know, rather than attempting any kind of subscript, and the cumbersome indications of setting render the amateurish background projections moot.
Acting through such flaws makes the job much more difficult, so on some level a degree of forgiveness ought to be extended to the cast. They are only three strong, playing a mother (Natalia Campbell), a father (Johnny Neal) and a son (Damian Reyes-Fox). They all manage to pull off remarkably well-studied accents throughout, but the similarities stop there; Campbell struggles to be truly sympathetic, too often substituting subtlety for shouting, while Neal slips in and out of a good performance, coping well with the more mundane, but battling to satisfy a script which asks him to realistically watch his child dying on stage. Reyes-Fox is in another league entirely. While his is likely the least ample part, needing him to play at a multitude of ages (and even nationalities), he excels, even despite having to lead several out-of-place physical theatre interludes, which never seem to resolve themselves as having much to do with anything.
I wonder if the play is just far too ambitious. It features, for example, a mimed vehicle crash, which is near impossible to stage without risking straining the audience’s suspended disbelief. The mime itself was unconvincing, so, like many of the lacking elements, detracted from any possible emotional investment. Ultimately, A Life Twice Given is an engaging, unusual piece of theatre, unfortunately dogged by its flaws, haunted by its potential, but mostly worth its time and money.