thu 27/02/2020

Home Death, Finborough Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Home Death, Finborough Theatre

Home Death, Finborough Theatre

How we die, on stage, and in life

Malcolm Tierney and Ania Marson as George and Diana MellyPhotos: Piers Allardyce

What is a "good" death? How do most of us want to die? These are not questions that we often stop to ask, particularly in the theatre, where deaths tend to be either heroic or sordid. Two years ago, however, the playwright Nell Dunn’s partner of three decades died slowly, painfully, of lung cancer. On his last day he felt as if he were drowning, but of the five NHS professionals who visited him at home, all were trained to prolong life, none to ease the suffering of the dying. Home Death, therefore, is her story, and those of others, about dying at home: good deaths, bad deaths.


I'd just like to contribute a few thoughts in response to your observations about the materialistic couple. (NB I went to the show because I am a friend of the ravishingly beautiful Laura - and entirely agree with that comment!) I felt huge empathy for the 2 sisters - they, like the other characters, were searingly honest and not seeking to impress with tales of their noblest hours. I do a lot of work in healthcare and, I'm afraid, one of the comments that comes back from English-speaking patients very frequently, is the issue of healthcare professionals in England who do not speak English well enough to be understood. On a practical level, it has a serious impact on the notion of informed patient consent, and can make the difference between a patient feeling that they understand their diagnosis and treatment plan, and a patient feeling utterly confused - which may affect their compliance with treatment and result in them making decisions they may not have made if they had understood the doctor's English. I listen to a lot of doctors, from GPs to consultants, from England and the USA - and I am constantly shocked at how many of them speak such a poor standard of English that even I, who understand the treatment area under discsussion, cannot understand what they are saying. The point about untrained staff. A great friend died of cancer 3 years ago and went through exactly the situation the 2 sisters described - of home care services coming to the house, supposedly to give his wife respite - some of whom were lovely, but some of whom were so untrained that the best that they could do was to sit and have a cup of tea and tell us all what a draining job it was for them to do. The painful truth is that the quality of services varies hugely from region to region - and this trio had the bad experience and, in my view, are allowed to say so. If we are all just trying to be politically correct and not say anything contentious that will ruffle any feathers, then the truth will never be told, and services will not improve as a result. Their materialism. My own father died last year (not of cancer) and, when I look back with relief at the fact that I was able to spend one of his final weeks in the hospital with him, one of the memories that makes me laugh is of how thrilled he was that I bought him two very luxurious and expensive nightshirts - partly practical because his hip operation meant pyjama bottoms were impractical, and partly because it gave him such child-like pleasure to be made a fuss of and indulged. There are many aspects of love - and lavishing generous gifts is just one of many ways of showng it. The stoical working class couple lavished private health care on their mum, if you remember - but you do not criticise them for it! One of the many radiant aspects of that show was these characters shared their experiences with us, in what felt like a deeply intimate conversation - to the extent that, at times, I had to stop myself from murmering assent or asking them a question. They were telling us what they felt, not what they ought to feel. And we sat there as an audience, not in judgement, but in empathy. And that, in my view, is what makes the difference between a piece of theatre and a piece of polemic. Love, Kerry

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