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The Art of Dying, Royal Court, review: Nick Payne delivers moving meditation on death


Nick Payne's 45-minute monologue, which he performs himself, builds into a moving meditation on how we could better help the dying to die.

It's structured on the interweaving principle that the young dramatist has employed with such musical and thematic eloquence in his award-winning play Constellations and in the recent Incognito.

The piece begins and ends with the fictional case of Maggie Noonan from Milton Keynes who, struck down by degenerative disease, has reached the point where she wants her life to end. 

In between, Payne entwines two stories (one a personal testimony of the loss of his father to severe heart failure) that illustrate the pressure to collude in lying to the terminally ill in an effort to protect ourselves as well as them. “We try to operate within a culture of optimism,” declares his father's consultant preposterously. 

Meanwhile, in the other strand, the distinguished American physicist Richard Feynman is prevailed on to tell his 25 year old wife that she has glandular fever rather than tuberculosis of the lymph glands. 

Payne quotes from the piercing love letter Feynman wrote to her sixteen months after she died and one realises that this monologue – delivered in a low-key, unassuming manner and punctuated by unsettling hospital beeps – is, among other things, the resistance of a devoted son to any fashionable, simplistic notion of “moving on”. 

To 12 July; 020 7565 5000