Coelacanth, a dark one-act comedy which is part of this year’s Camden Fringe, is set in a world where assisted suicide has been legalised and anyone wanting it can find someone to kill them, in the manner of their choosing, via a Tindr-style app. We meet Yvette (Lizzie Back) in her south London flat as she is preparing for the arrival of her killer (Jack Stacey).
Yvette is a nervous, heavy drinker in her 20s. If she wasn’t constantly throwing back G&Ts, she’d seem like a normal twenty-something. Why she wants to use an app-based assisted suicide service is unclear.
Her killer seems fairly normal too. Professional, even. At least, at first. Then, as more is slowly revealed about him, he starts to seem rather creepy. He really likes her looks and the outfit she’s chosen to die in. He wants to kill her wearing his own special outfit, a tight black one. He wants to live stream her death to his followers. It’s all perfectly normal, he insists.
But just as the deed is about to be done, Yvette’s flatmate arrives back from the pub – steaming drunk and up for fun – and everything starts to go wrong. For everyone.
Coelacanth has some fair points to make about assisted suicide and the need to ensure that those who want to go through with it have adequate protections. Yvette’s hired killer may offer a legal service, but he doesn’t undertake it ethically or professionally. How this ends is his fault.
But where the play falls down is that it’s hard to feel invested in Yvette as a character when we know so little about why she wants to die. The scenes with her mad, drunk flatmate are touching and funny – and a very accurate portrayal of two female friends in their twenties getting up to larks – but they don’t offer an insight. In fact, they make Yvette seem like someone very much wanting to be alive.
The play is well-performed by the cast and the staging is energetic and exciting, but the script is the problem here. For a high concept like this to work, it needs to be believable, and Yvette just doesn’t feel like someone who seriously wants to die. Even for long enough to book a killer via an app.