Lila by Katie Hims

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Lila by Katie Hims (2001). Dir. Melanie Harris. Perf. Denise Black, Jeff Hordley, John Branwell. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 27 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 29 Mar. 2015.

Years of cross-cultural encounters have taught me that one of the ways to distinguish a Brit is their willingness to make jokes about death. Members of other cultures treat the subject with considerable solemnity, but we tend to laugh at ourselves, even on the saddest occasions. I remember of the sight of my father-in-law's coffin being lowered into the grave on a filthy wet day, and being highly amused at the sight of the pall-bearers' wellington books gradually sinking into the boggy ground as they did so.

Katie Hims's "Lila" follows in much the same tradition. The eponymous heroine (Denise Black) has just lost her husband Ron at the comparatively early age of thirty-nine, and now has to look forward to the prospect of life alone after twenty years of relatively happy marriage. Ron was never the most interesting of people; he preferred to stay at home and do the gardening rather than make any significant contribution to the world. In the belief that Lila's life needs brightening up somehow, her brothers (Jeff Hordley, John Branwell) decide to move in with her. One is a stolid middle-aged type, the other a young tearaway who hitherto has had no proper job, preferring life as a small-time drug dealer.

Inevitably things start to go wrong, as the brothers begin to impose things on Lila that she does not really want, yet remains too polite to tell them. Matters go from bad to worse when both of them end up sleeping with her. They confess their undying love for her, but Lila remains unconvinced; she simply beds them out of a spontaneous desire to have sex. The play ends on a note of qualified happiness, but we remain unconvinced that her life will improve in any significant way.

Katie Hims's comedy makes some important points about the labored way in which people try to deal with the bereaved; rather than letting them alone, their misplaced efforts to make things better only succeed in exacerbating the situation.