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06 March 1978: Conti asks Whose Life Is It Anyway?

First Published 23 April 2008, Last Updated 23 April 2008

Brian Clark’s play Whose Life Is It Anyway? premiered at the Mermaid theatre in the city of London on 6 March 1978, with Tom Conti playing a man who tries to claim his right to die.

Clark originally wrote the story for television in 1972, before adapting it into a stage play. For this premier production Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed Conti as Ken Harrison, a paralysed sculptor who takes the rational decision that he wants to die. Finding his doctor unwilling to help him do so, Ken takes the hospital to the high court to force them to allow him the right to die.

The play was a Laurence Olivier Award-winning success, picking up Play of the Year and Actor of the Year in a New Play, for Conti, at the 1978 ceremony. The production transferred from the Mermaid to the Savoy in London’s West End, before heading to Broadway’s Trafalgar theatre in 1979. Making his Broadway debut, Conti consolidated his success in London by winning the 1979 Best Actor Tony Award. The play also received Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Direction of a Play, for Lindsay-Hogg.

Conti, now 66, went on to become a much-loved British stage and screen actor, whose West End credits include Coward’s Present Laughter, Miller’s The Ride Down Mount Morgan, Stoppard’s The Real Thing and, most recently, Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell at the Garrick in 2006. He has also frequently appeared on television in both the UK and the US, and in many films.

In an interesting twist, Whose Life Is It Anyway? has been revived both on Broadway and in the West End with a gender reversal, re-written by Clark. In 1980 at the Royale theatre in New York Lindsay-Hogg once again directed the play, this time with Mary Tyler Moore in the role of Claire Harrison, the patient wishing to die, and James Naughton as Dr Scott, a role previously written for a woman. The play achieved similar success to the previous production, with Moore winning a Special Award at the 1980 Tonys.

In the West End, Kim Cattrall, best known for playing man-eater Samantha in the American sitcom Sex And The City, made her UK stage debut in the role of Claire Harrison at the Comedy in 2005, directed by Peter Hall.

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