Giving up the Ghost – Rivka Hartman and the final assist for our loved ones. (Theatre Review)

Giving up the Ghost

pop Up Theatre Productions

Limelight on Oxford 17 October – 3 November

You can grab your tickets here.

‘Complicated’ is surely the best way to describe the range of emotions patient and family members go through when a terminally ill member has requested assisted suicide. Conversation in advance is suggested as essential for partners and family approaching a time in their life when they may require assisted suicide, but the many pitfalls that may potentially arise from such conversations can do little to prepare families. Inevitably long love stories involve the end of life, and for couples who have shared decades, this change looms as terrifying for many reasons. Often loved ones and families of those who have been assisted into their death find the choice selfish and cruel to those left behind[1]. Yet, the primary reason a person will ask for assisted suicide involves them not wanting to burden the family or loved on in their life. The humiliation of becoming a full-time patient is too hard to bear. There seems to be an incongruity in a person’s desire to become dependent and a person’s desire to care for their lover through any difficulty.

It is this subject that Rivka Hartman explores in her thoroughly modern play Giving Up the Ghost currently on at the fabulously new Limelight Theatre on Oxford Street. Elaine Hudson plays Lana, a manic doctor (with a kitsch touch of the ‘I Love Lucy’ about her) looking forward to getting some time to herself. The catch is, it is the morning of her husband Ben’s funeral (the consistently handsome Chris Orchard) and we don’t quite buy that she has it all together as much as she’d like us to think. Minutes into the play, Ben is there in ghost form. Any thoughts Lana may have had about that alone time are a while away yet. When her daughter Gemma (a thankfully sane Madeline Withinton) announces she’d like to marry her partner Jason (a truly hilarious Andrew Wang) the tension rises, the jokes fly and we feel ourselves rolling around the loungeroom of this small family going through a large crisis.

However, as the title implies, it is a ghost in the narrative that provides the real meat and soul for Giving up the Ghost. In a particularly poignant scene Ben sings to Lana, and we see how difficult and complicated it is to love for a long time and lose the person closest to you. Love stories often begin with how you met, but Rivka Hartman has chosen to focus on how a couple in love cope with being forced to part. Lana, comfortable approaching dilemmic situations in the bioethical field has nothing to prepare her for the difficulty of dealing with her husbands’ death and his assisted suicide. No commonly agreed criteria or judgement procedure is available to save her. The only method of dealing with the truth and the sadness is through the stories that are our lives.

It is in here that the true quality of Rivka Hartman’s work shines. While Giving up the Ghost is very funny, and she draws strong performances from her cast it is the moment Lana connects with her sadness that the play tumbles into place and draws the audience into the real of Lana’s predicament. Giving up the Ghost becomes a meditation on beauty and love and the strange feelings we have when we grieve. For Lana, and the audience, the petty distractions and complications of life fade into their rightful place and we are left with the Us we see in the face of our love.

Giving up the Ghost is a beautiful little play in a beautiful venue in the heart of Sydney’s Oxford Street. It is the inaugural production for Limelight on Oxford, so it’s more than a little special. This is an intimate witty production that connects deeply with the audience. Rivka Hartman’s direction is compact and light, and this is reflected in the buoyant and joyful performance of Elaine Hudson. Chris Orchard is a charismatic leading man, as much the potent love interest as ever. Madeline Withington plays her well written part to perfection, being the extremely bright, totally clueless daughter who manages to get it right anyway. A stand out performance comes from Andrew Wang who delivers Rivka Hartman’s accomplished text-speak with enough skill to deliver meaning, and enough youthful lightness to confound none the less. His funny performance is reason to see the show on its own.

Giving up the Ghost is a wonderful new show by an accomplished Sydney writer with whom we are all familiar. It is playing in a new venue, that promises to be a favourite among theatre goers, the revamped Limelight on Oxford. Go to the show early and grab a bite to eat in the elegant lounge downstairs and then take your second wine up to the show. Affordable chic is rare in Sydney these days and Limelight offers it up in spades. Enjoy!

[1] Oregon Physicians’ Perceptions of Patients Who Request Assisted Suicide and Their Families LINDA GANZINI, M.D.,1,2,4 STEVEN K. DOBSCHA, M.D.,1,2 RONALD T. HEINTZ, M.D.,2 and NANCY PRESS, Ph.D.3,4. Find the paper here.