Home » London Theatre Reviews » Review of Keith Hindell’s Dead or Alive? at Theatro Technis

Review of Keith Hindell’s Dead or Alive? at Theatro Technis

Dead or Alive - (c) Lauren Douglin
Dead or Alive – (c) Lauren Douglin

It is 50 years since the 1967 Abortion Act 1967 was passed in the UK. The act didn’t decriminalise abortion but enabled women to have one if two doctors certified that she met certain criteria. Abortions in Britain which do not meet these criteria are still illegal and protect the unborn subject to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Keith Hindell has written a new play called Dead or Alive? to look at the issues around abortion 50 years on, especially now that abortion is seen as simpler and easier than ever before. Hindell was on the board of the Pregnancy Advisory Service during the 1970s and then worked for the BBC starting as their UN correspondent, during the 80s and 90s. He also co-authored ‘Abortion Law Reformed’ with Madeleine Simms in 1971 which was reissued as a paperback in 2012. 

Abortion may be simpler but the sobering fact is that since 1967 official figures show that there have been 8,745,508 abortions performed in the UK. Hindell’s play particularly focuses on ‘newer’ non-invasive abortion methods where women are basically doing and having abortions by themselves at home by taking pills. This is
striking in that one of the main drivers for the passing of the 67 Act was precisely to stop women aborting by themselves or with other women without doctors! Abortion seems to have come full circle over 50 years.

The cast do a competent job with some fairly ponderous dialogue at times, but the writing is not in any sense deft, illuminating or engaging. Furthermore, Hindley has tried to make the play a sort of lighthearted and even funny romp through the issues and questions around abortion which is not altogether successful. He bizarrely chooses to champion a woman’s right to choose by having his central pregnant nameless character – she is simply called ‘ The Woman’ (played by Joanna Cordle) – chitchat and argue with her unborn children. Yes, that’s right, she is pregnant with not just one baby but with twins. And not just twins but the ‘perfect family’ one boy and one girl twins (Natasha Jacobs and James Glyn). One twin wants very much to live and the other is philosophical and doesn’t much care. They talk to their mother throughout citing the rights and wrongs of abortion and how it affects not only them but also the wider family.

They rush off to play in sandcastles and on swings as well and speak in babyish voices and are dressed as young children. Thus the play felt at times as though it was a children’s entertainment, apart from the very un-children’s entertainment serious questions raised. It simply doesn’t work and is both jarring and plain weird. The fact that the unborn twins talk about their rights is undermined by nervous laughter from the audience who at times don’t quite know whether they are supposed to laugh or not.

Mum also gets herself in a mess with this device as early in the play she chastises the ‘children’ about talking about their father’s rights saying basically he has none (not too much exploration of that aspect in this play), but later on when the twins are rude to dad she chastises them for speaking so rudely to ‘their father’. Bizarre. Schizophrenic even.

Dad, or as he’s otherwise referred to ‘Prince Charming’, does make an appearance, unnamed of course – ‘The Man’ (played by Nik Salmon) but it is clear his presence is tolerated rather than welcome and that what he wants or might suggest as a solution is simply not going to be taken very seriously. This despite being put through some fairly gruelling ‘wheelbarrowing’ physical exercises by his (large) embryonic baby-voiced embryos. Nik Salmon obviously works out in the gym and manages walking on his hands extremely well. This unfortunately somewhat overshadowed what he actually says as the audience laugh a lot at this point. So the message is that dad is a bit of a joke really. Great.

Dead or Alive - (c) Lauren Douglin
Dead or Alive – (c) Lauren Douglin

It gets worse. The play totally falls apart when two giant sperm arrive from ‘inner space’, complete with big round costumes and wiggling tails. This is not comic or physical banter to make us look at issues differently. As the blob embryos blobbed around it was simply tacky and ridiculous and any sense of dealing with a very serious issue involving life and death is completely lost.

Satire and black comedy are used by great playwrights to startle us into looking at issues differently or sometimes at all. His decision to use childish caricature and humour to look at the rights and wrongs and issues surrounding abortion simply doesn’t work and is at times patronising as well as jarring.

More significantly, the play raises nothing new about the issue. It simply takes the two sides of the debate and presents the usual questions using unborn baby twins. This actually reinforces the fact that we are talking about life! If the twins voices are silenced by ‘the woman’ taking those pills they are then dead. They are not half alive or a bit alive or a bit developed. Mum talks with them as many pregnant mothers do.

Essentially this is not a successful play and though the cast work very hard, there is not much they can do with the writing. It’s not clear whether the writer wants the woman to have more medical support for her pill-induced abortion or much less. The question that lingered at the end of the play might have been more worthwhile exploring: ‘What price an unborn life? Do we really want a society where getting rid of a life is simply achieved by swallowing a few tablets in a few seconds? In the 21st century at a time when we want to protect foxes, hedgerows and oceans and save the planet, and when medicine seeks to cure more and more illnesses and enable us to live longer and more productive lives, why do we embrace pills that destroy our own so easily? Now that is a question to be asked and answered.

2 gold stars

Review by Catherine Françoise

Veteran broadcaster Keith Hindell’s new play Dead or Alive? examines abortion at a time when a woman’s right to choose is still limited by law, although medical advances have made the procedure safer and easier than ever before.

A pregnant woman ponders whether to abort the twin embryos she is carrying and discusses it directly with them. One of them wants the right to live, while the other respects her mother’s decision. Her tentative intention to abort is forcefully challenged by a modern prince charming, the putative father. The situation is further complicated when two strange creatures emerge from “inner space”. Ultimately, the woman must choose the fate of her unborn children.

The Abortion Act of 1967 enables a pregnant woman to qualify for an abortion if two doctors certify that her symptoms meet certain criteria. Abortions in Britain which do not meet these minimum tests are still illegal subject to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Dead or Alive? stars Joanna Cordle (Theatre Sangallo, Venice) as the woman, with Natasha Jacobs (Hello, Hello, Arcola Theatre) and James Glyn (National Youth Theatre, professional debut) as the unborn male and female embryos. Nik Salmon (In Soft Wings, Tristan Bates Theatre) plays the man, with Lucy Hilton-Jones (I’m Standing Next to You, Home Manchester) and Aaron Kehoe (Young Everyman Playhouse) playing two excitable sperm cells.

Dead or Alive?
Playwright Keith Hindell
Director Kasia Różycki, Artistic Director of Off The Cliff Theatre

Cast: Joanna Cordle, Nik Salmon, Natasha Jacobs, James Glyn, Lucy Hilton-Jones and Aaron Kehoe.

Performance Dates May 15th 2018 – May 26th 2018
Running Time 75 mins
Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Rd, Camden NW1 1TT


Scroll to Top