Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Home Death

Nell Dunn
Finborough Theatre
(2011)

Home Death publicity image

Death can be a contentious subject, but most of us would agree without saying it that we’d like to die with peace and dignity. Terry Pratchett’s recent documentary covered the difficulties of a dignified death that isn’t legal in this country; Nell Dunn’s play covers the difficulties of a dignified death that is.

In Home Death we hear of seven deaths after prolonged illness. Some are ‘good’ deaths and some aren’t so much, but all of these terminally ill people insisted on dying at home. Two grown up children tell us about the excellent care and support they and their mother had; a woman tells us of her five hour wait for her lover’s morphine; we listen to the story of a man whose lung exploded.

These stories are all true and told with frank and emotional honesty. All are well acted, in particular Linda Broughton as Nell and Richard Keightley as James stand out for their matter-of-fact and touching delivery. Ania Marson is also well coupled with Malcolm Tierney as Diana and her dying husband George. Tierney brings some lightness to the piece with his geniality and charming smile in his role as the jazz singer with cancer and dementia.

The characters sit mostly without moving from their seats and tell the stories that are sometimes difficult to listen to, and sometimes scary; whilst there is comfort in knowing that there are charities and support groups to help people through, no one likes to think that they might die in pain waiting for the morphine that incompetent nurses and uncaring doctors have failed to provide. Which you get is all down to the luck of the draw; now that is scary.

My mother died suddenly a little over a year ago; going to a play called Home Death is not the greatest idea I ever had. For people in my position, I would strongly recommend not seeing this play as there is an awful lot to empathise with – or at least bring more than one tissue. Although there is laughter in this play, there aren’t quite enough moments of release from the intensity of the small Finborough space. It makes for a powerful play, but some people may find it a little too difficult to hear.

At ninety minutes, the play is a little too long – especially as the seats are not particularly comfortable and it's not the type of play you can fidget in.

Home Death is compassionate and thought-provoking; the issue is never milked or over-dramatised, but no punches are pulled either. Nell Dunn wrote this play because she was ‘outraged by the lack of care given to [her] partner when he died at home’. If she wanted to make a case for a better funded, better equipped NHS, she’s certainly made it. David Cameron should come and see this play.

Reviewer: Emma Berge