In an age where absolutely everything is shared via social media, nothing is secret, and nothing is sacred. Not even suicide. The Suicide, originally written in the late 1920s by Nikolai Erdman and banned by Stalin for being anti-Communist, is reimagined for the modern British audience by playwright Suhayla El-Bushra and director Nadia Fall.
The Suicide is a comedy, a satire, a parody of death, privilege and fame in the digital era. It’s a bit of a weird show, and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea (as the shitfaced audience member two rows behind me made clear with his racist ranting that reminded me of Shepherd Book’s “special level of hell, reserved for child molesters, and people who talk at the theatre”). However, it raises a lot of issues that hit very close to home for me.
The play follows Sam, who decides to commit suicide as a way out of his depressing life. Sam is unemployed, without government benefits, living in a tiny flat with his wife Maya and mother-in-law Sarah. When a video of his breakdown goes viral (filmed by a local kid and posted with the title ‘Lame-Ass Pussy in Dirty Pants’), Sam is visited by a stream of wild characters seeking to capitalise on his depression. “You have nothing to live for,” they tell him, so he might as well make a statement.
At age fifteen, my depression was at its worst. I fantasised about dying, and thought constantly about how I would kill myself, what my funeral would be like, who would come to it, who would cry, who would say “I wish I’d known her better”. I imagined my family going through my possessions and deciding what to do with everything. I thought about my friends going through my books and clothes and arguing over what they wanted to take, to remember me by. Above all, I wondered about how I would be remembered. Would my journals and short stories be published in a posthumous anthology, like Kafka? Would the story be covered in the news, and would they blame my suicide on bad parenting, or exam stress (as they did when my friend’s fourteen-year-old sister took her life two years later)?
These thoughts came back to me last night as I watched the vultures pick over Sam’s not-yet-dead-much-less-cold corpse. Knowing how you will be immortalised, how the media will celebrate your death and your life, and how people will profit from such a public suicide, seemed strange and surreal, reflected in Nadia Fall’s bombastic directing and a constantly-changing set. “At the heart of comedy is cruelty,” a piece of directing advice given by Henry Bell (mentioned in my last post), is truer in satire than in any other form of comedy. We’re laughing, but at the root if it is a fear of our own mortality.
The Suicide, by Suhayla El-Bushra, after Erdman
Directed by Nadia Fall
National Theatre (Lyttleton) until 21 April 2016