“I was under the impression that my dad was dying”
Nick Payne’s monologue The Art of Dying speaks so eloquently about the death of loved ones and all of little details around it that it would surely be impossible not to be moved by its quiet but fierce emotion. He entwines a hugely moving central narrative about the passing of his father with other stories of people passing and the different ways in which they approach death and those left behind deal with it. Some of it is true, some of it is fictional, but it really doesn’t matter which is which in the end as it is all felt so keenly in Michael Longhurst’s acutely observed production.
Payne delivers the piece from a chair on a bare stage, the only detail a line of pharmaceutical containers high on a shelf and backlit so that it could almost be the silhouette of a cityscape. And though he has risen to fame as a playwright, he makes a genuinely engaging stage presence. Slightly bashful – the glass of water feels almost as much a crutch as liquid refreshment – but also quietly confident, he guides us through the emotional turbulence, offering a metaphorical steadying hand for that moment when the tears start to prickle (even for himself).
For even when the play is at its (assumedly) most personal, it is never alienating. Those little details that strike home for him (the missing glasses), the unexpected connections in the most unlikely of places (My Girl, the Lyric Hammersmith) are true for anyone who has lost someone close – we will never know exactly how or when they’ll affect but one can be sure they will, one way or another. And that is what makes The Art of Dying feel important, an acknowledgement that we all get poleaxed, an openness that shows it is worthwhile sharing that experience.