Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Comedy Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Peter Hall seems to be making a habit of immobilising popular TV actresses on the boards of the West End stage. A year ago or so, he had Felicity Kendall buried up to her neck in earth in his production of Beckett's Happy Days. Now he has Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall paralysed from the neck down in a hospital bed in Brian Clark's updated version of his 1970 hit play Whose Life Is It Anyway?

If Samantha, Cattrall's television character, was compulsively prepared (in one sense) to take it lying down, that's precisely what (in the other sense) her character Clare in this play will not do. Reduced to being a talking head after a road accident, and left with a drastically diminished quality of life, she is battling with the medical establishment for the right to die.

This updated version takes account of medical advances (the possibility of eventual regeneration through stem cells); legal precedents (the contrasting verdicts in the case of Miss B and Diane Pretty are invoked); and technological improvements.

Cattrall gives a very moving, if slightly too emphatic, performance. She eloquently expresses, through just her mobile face and voice, all of Clare's various moods and strategies - the barbed brightness which sometimes masks fury; the sarcastic funny-girl routines which radiate the continuing sharp intelligence that puts the character in a Catch-22 position (if you are clever and sane enough to mount a case for suicide, it arguably demonstrates you ought not to die); and the terrible desperation of thwarted yearning.

The play's heart is in the right place. The climactic hearing - to decide if Clare is fit to decide her own fate - is convened through the legal ruse of taking out a habeas corpus writ against the hospital. Janet Suzman's grave, authoritative judge presides wisely. You feel that to doom a paralysed person to existence, against his or her will, would be to play God with suffering more harshly than, well, God does. Imagine the horror of a universe where an opt-out clause was absolutely impossible; that is the universe which Clare inhabits.

Though it incorporates one or two silent sequences where the bleakness of the heroine's predicament is given a chance to sink in non-verbally, Hall's production is marred by some terribly over-insistent performances, and can't disguise the fact that there's not enough subtlety in this relentlessly talkative, admirably humane, and artistically not very distinguished drama.

Booking to 30 April (0870 060 6637)

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