Death, the great leveller, comes to us all eventually. Oxford Don, jazz singer, mother, father, friend; there will eventually be a last breath for all. Statically told and relying on old-fashioned storytelling, seven deaths and their preludes materialise on the Finborough stage in Nell Dunn’s Home Death.
All cancer, all diagnosed terminal, it is a mixed bag of experiences with only one thing in common: all die at home. The good is preceded by the bad, is followed by the gentle, is abutted by the abandoned in time of need. Nell’s script doesn’t shy away from the ugly truths, nor does she gloss the better moments with unnecessary sugar.
And amongst all the themes, of love, of dying, of dignity, of fear, is a clear message of what a difference the professionals trained in end of life care make to the experience, both for the patient and the loved ones. There were only positive words for the Marie Curie Cancer Care nurses mentioned in more than one story for the their caring attentiveness and their deep knowledge.
Physically it is a generally still, generally quiet play. If anything the stillness draws you in even deeper. At times there is a little too much medical jargon, but a scene must be set and that is the tiniest of gripes. The cast, relatively large for such a small space, tackle the subject matter without dramatics, a fantastic ensemble providing benign support for each storyteller in turn. Ania Marson as Diana and Malcolm Tierney as George do tug at the heartstrings a little more, it must be noted. Put it down to their sense of a shared history. Ditto Richard Keightley as the young widower with step children. Chalk it up to the loss of a shared future.
Only one thing stylistically rankles – the break to allow the final two stories into the mix. While timing is excellent, the introduction of these two stories is so disruptive (physically) to the others that that it becomes a little disjointed. This section is nevertheless well-written and well-handled by all, however, a little more stylistic blending with the rest of the show wouldn’t have gone amiss.
But it is, in the end, all down to the details. The three ashtrays on a bedside cabinet. The bed linen. The nurse who knows when to plump pillows and when to hold all hands. Above all it is the quietness of the final moment; the gentle lingering of a very well-written, very well-produced play and the humanity of all.
- Laura Tosney