An Instinct For Kindness

Published April 12, 2012

While tragedies that are based on true events are probably the most moving, I can imagine that they’re also the most challenging for the performers who are entrusted to portray them. Surely nothing is more difficult, though, than acting out something deeply tragic that you have experienced in your own life.

Chris Larner is undoubtedly a brave man. Not only did he endure the emotional trauma of taking his ex-wife to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic to help her end her life, he is now willing to go through it again… almost every night… for three weeks.

This was a story that Larner believed had to be told and last night at Trafalgar Studio 2 he told it in front of a London audience. In a solo show that combines narration and performance, he revealed the difficulties, both emotionally and legally, surrounding assisted suicide.

Larner’s ex-wife Allyson, to whom he was still very close, suffered from multiple sclerosis and An Instinct For Kindness provides a graphic portrayal of the pain and suffering, the enemas and incontinence, caused by the neurological condition. Allyson didn’t want to die but nor did she want to live, not in this way. So after a long and hard fight, she made the decision to die, a decision that was all together more difficult to implement than you might imagine.

As if choosing to die wasn’t hard enough, Allyson and Chris needed enough legal documents and medical notes to clear the Amazon rainforest of trees, along with the help of individuals who were willing to keep a very big secret. Wracked with fear and anxiety that the authorities would stop them, the pair set off to the Swiss Alps, and only one of them would return.

Surprisingly, An Instinct For Kindness isn’t merely a depressing insight into Allyson’s situation. Just as you feel yourself reaching for the tissues, in a bizarre shift in mood you instead find yourself smiling, and sometimes even laughing, at Allyson’s admirable outlook on life and her debilitating illness.

While this story may deal with a contentious topic, Larner hopes to raise awareness and cause increased debate on the laws governing assisted suicide with the aim of changing the way in which cases like Allyson’s are treated in the future.