Let’s pretend this is a review and let’s pretend this is a play in the conventional sense. None of these things are true. Nick Payne wrote a monologue about things that happened to him, are factually true (one assumes), are about death and dying and he performs it himself. The space between performance and non-performance has shrunk to a tiny sliver.
But performance it is, and that’s a good thing. One of the best – and important – things to say about The Art of Dying is I didn’t feel emotionally blackmailed. It’s not a confessional, it’s an expedition. Trying to find a path after you had someone close to you die. Like an intrepid explorer setting off to discover a new world. Except you don’t have the choice of staying home.
Is it moving? Of course. It captures a million tiny gestures that make life bearable and unbearable. I could see the words bouncing off the audience and sparkling other stories. More than anything else, death unites us all. Not our own death but the death of the people we love. It was happening all around me. He talked about calling his father’s mobile after his father died, only to hear his voice. I remembered audiotapes with fairy tales my mother had recorded in her own voice (when we were little and she was going to work, she left them with us for company). Twenty years ago, when we lost them, it didn’t seem that important. I wish I had them now.
It’s weird what other moments stayed with me: he mentioned something that happened while he was at the Lyric Hammersmith watching Mogadishu. It undid me. Everything else, up until that point, could be about someone else. Not this. I know this.
The monologue has structure (unlike this review), and artistry and these things are essential for the result. To be honest, I don’t care to talk about them. Nick Payne performs the monologue as simply as you can imagine. He has an adorable tick of scratching his knee (is that a directorial decision? The monologue is directed by Michael Longhurst). His voice is light and effortless. Which is to say, he has probably put a lot of effort into it. I am trying not to use the word brave, but he is a non-performer choosing to say something very personal in a tiny space seeing the white of people’s eyes.
Was it really a choice? Maybe not. What’s the point of art if it’s not what eats your mind and heart? Still. It’s not happening every day.
Until 12 July. Running Time: 45 minutes.