It’s a new Australian work that deals with a complex and highly controversial subject.
Emu Productions has presented the world premiere of Martin Ashley Jones’ Is it time at Newtown’s King Street Theatre. Described by playwright Jones as a work 30 years in the making, it tells the story of Jim (Ross Scott) and Eva (Sylvia), an elderly couple that have spent most of their lives together. Ultimately, disturbed by the manner of decline of those around them, they make the decision to end their lives together at a time of their own choosing. It’s a decision in which they receive the full support of their granddaughter, Rosie (Lauren J. Jones).
Euthanasia remains a highly sensitive topic in Australia. Today, it’s illegal in all Australian states and territories, though the issue was thrust to the forefront of public discussion in the mid 1990s, when it was legalised in the Northern Territory for some time. Dr Philip Nitschke, also attracted an enormous amount of attention at that time, as the doctor who assisted four people in ending their lives during the period in which the practise was legal.
Today, the issue of euthanasia continues to polarise the wider community. People continue to present strong cases for and against allowing euthanasia in Australia, and their enormous passion one way or the other is typically driven by a multitude of factors. It remains a difficult debate and one rife with emotion.
It’s for that reason that Jones’ text would benefit from greater development. While euthanasia is unmistakably the central issue of Is it time, further work to better represent the complexity of the issue and the major arguments on either side of the debate would make this a more thought-provoking piece. While the dialogue gives us a clear understanding of the reasons for the couple’s ultimate decision, as well as an insight into the environmental factors that led them to that choice, what the play doesn’t offer is a picture of the couple grappling with their decision as to whether or not they should take the path they’ve contemplated. Some pushback from other characters does eventually come into the story, but that occurs once the couple has already become steadfast in their decision.
Two of the characters we’re introduced to in the course of the story are David Luke (Dr Simon Russell) and Nurse Stacey (Sarah Plummer), who themselves sit at different points on the spectrum, as far as their attitudes to euthanasia are concerned. It seems these characters could serve a heightened purpose in the narrative if conversations with the couple on the subject of euthanasia were woven into the story from well before the point at which they arrive at their final decision. There’s the chance there to offer the audience a great deal more food for thought.
When the topic of euthanasia is finally raised explicitly in the piece, it’s late in the play and it does feel somewhat that the piece hurries towards its conclusion. While the end point in the story is absolutely an appropriate note on which to finish, there needs to be further fleshing out of the journey to arrive at that point. The foundations are there. Scott and White are effective in their portrayal of the devoted couple who have no interest in living apart from one another for even a moment, but the strength of that bond would be better elucidated where the text revealed a process associated with any decision as to euthanasia. There is the potential to send audience members back out into the world with greater clarity as to a crucial central message – that while a decision to choose the point at which to end their life is plagued by a number of moral and ethical issues, the unwavering strength of the love between two people is what will likely influence such a decision above all else, and that that’s possibly a fact that should just be accepted.
Is it time has at its heart worthy and important social messages. But the potential remains for those messages to be crafted into the piece in a manner that will mean the work has a greater impact.