“THIS is a play about death”, we are told at the beginning, but that’s only have the story.
Over 80 minutes this fascinating play explores what it means to die and if a person somehow lives on if someone inherits their grandfather’s smile, their mother’s teeth, a cello made by their father or a piece of music.
What about cancer cells taken from a dead body which keep regenerating.
In her first full-length play, Brockley writer Mira Dovreni intricately weaves three narratives strands like amino acids in a genetic code.
The first is based on the true story of Henrietta Lacks who died of cervical cancer in West Virginia in 1951. Some of her cells were taken for study by Dr George Gey and, amazingly, kept reproducing even though she was dead. It was the first immortal cell line and paved the way for numerous medical breakthroughs.
A second strand serves to humanise Henrietta’s history. Her daughter is still struggling to come to terms with her death when, in 1996, she is asked to speak about the mother she barely knew at a medical conference.
It is brought into the (near) present day by Mick the decorator and Rosa from Catford, who meet, bond over music and have a baby together quickly...and then Mick dies.
The stories are cannily told, interwoven and non-linear, with the help of a clever but simple set which makes sure the audience always knows when and where we are.
The three-strong cast, including Lewisham EastEndeners actress Clare Perkins, are slick, using crafty characterisation to keep the audience up to speed with their changing roles and tying them into the story emotionally.
That said, it takes a while for us to care about the characters, though Dovreni’s script builds to a pleasing and poignant crescendo.
While the story ties you in, the facts behind it are sound and absolutely fascinating. It was created in collaboration with scientists from UCL and Manchester University, and that forensic attention to detail in the research is evident in the final performance.
How to be Immortal was at The Albany from January 28 to 29. It is now on national tour – go to facebook.com/pennydreadfultheatre. To find out about what’s coming up at The Albany, go to thealbany.org.uk