Skip to content


Can You Hear Seagulls?
Published on Saturday, 25 May 2013

Promotional Image

4 stars

The Old Courtroom (venue website)
23-26 May, 6:00pm-6:55pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 World Premiere.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

What do you when you’re waiting for someone to help you die? If you’re British, you have a cup of tea, and squabble about whether mid-afternoon means three o’clock or the hours between two and four.

Jimmy is terminally ill. He and his wife, Sal, have decided to end their lives together. As they wait, they talk about their past and debate whether they’ve made the right decision. Throughout, the script touches on subjects we prefer to avoid – death, family, and old age.

Jim and Sal are played by real-life couple David and Polly Pattison, and the closeness between them comes out in their understated performances. One of the chief themes of the play is how we talk without really talking; and if there is any moment when we shouldn’t leave things unsaid, it’s this one.

The play, also written by David Pattison, does a fine job in balancing humour and poignancy, and he doesn’t allow it to drift into the maudlin. I liked how underplayed his sickness was – a few moments of light coughing – but I think it needed a little more illness, or at least the apparatus of illness, to properly set the scene. Having seen my own grandmother fall ill with cancer, one of my memories is of how much stuff there was; the whirr of the morphine machine every fifteen minutes or so. Jimmy seemed to have the same illness as Ali MacGraw from Love Story, the one that allows you a beautiful death with a minimum of fuss.

The ending had a lovely ambiguity to it. I’ve seen a couple of plays over the last few weeks that have strived for this effect and not quite made it, but in this case, I felt the conclusion rounded out the piece. But the play isn’t completely without issues. Some of the seams of the writing are showing, and a number of emotional beats are repeated, which lessens their impact. Rather than being allowed to unfold, the direction of their conversation seemed a little forced at times. It just needs a bit more of a careful edit, and a little more decisiveness in picking the right moments for the right emotions.

There are also a couple of times when there is a knock on the door or the telephone rings, and rather than a character being brought into the play, they’re simply commented on. “Who’s that at the door?” “Can you answer the phone?” The timing was also questionable: Polly Pattison would disappear to answer, and then almost immediately come back. The combined effect took me out of the play a bit. (As a side note, there are several references to Macbeth throughout – the knocking at the door could have really nicely played into these).
But don’t get me wrong: this is a wonderful two-handed play, and there were several moments when I had to reach for the tissues. It certainly leaves you thinking.  And after all, isn’t that part of what makes us go to theatre?

<< Stuperstition   Failure (Other Opportunit... >>