The business of serious illness has been the downfall of many a dramatist. Otherwise incisive writers too often become mired in cliché, falling victim to the temptation to characterise invalids as sweetly suffering saints and their carers as self-sacrificing martyrs. However, in her début play Responsible Other at the Hampstead Theatre, Melanie Spencer demonstrates remarkable skill in presenting us not with great ideals, but with three-dimensional people – confused, well-meaning, pragmatic, stumbling, achingly normal.
We might wish that extreme circumstances could reveal us as superhuman, imbued with boundless patience and an uncanny ability to see the big picture, but often the reverse is true. When faced with something life-altering, we’re far more likely to grasp for small certainties, to express fear, anger and unhappiness in petty, irrational outbreaks, and to find we’re unable to connect with the person who is bound to us most closely.
Fifteen-year-old Daisy (a revelatory Alice Sykes) has more reasons than most adolescents to feel that life is totally unfair. She should be taking mock GCSEs, sneaking into clubs with dubious fake IDs and mooning over boys with BFF Alice; instead, she’s locked in a daily battle with the debilitating physical symptoms of lupus and with her father, Peter.