"I'm not a stranger... You know my name. You even know my disease."
Terminal illness, and in particular cancer, can make for a tough theatrical viewing experience. Many of us have direct experience of people who have suffered an illness and so it is a subject full of pitfalls. Throw into the mix the presence of teenage cancer victims and Dying Light becomes a tough topic to explore. It successfully mitigates this through a powerful story and well-observed humour.
The play tells the story of Tom and Jenny, both teenage cancer patients, who meet in the waiting room of their treatment centre. The audience follows them through their treatment as they fall in love. The play is a two hander, with monologues interspersed between scenes with the pair. The strength of any play of this nature comes from the performers at its core. Here Dying Light is in luck.
Chris Dodsworth is strong in the part of Tom, carrying the weight of the role effortlessly and bringing to the fore much of the humour of his part. Charitha Chandran is simply outstanding in the part of Jenny. The play feels more geared towards her story, and she conveys the emotional impact of her journey powerfully. Beyond occasional struggles with accents (the play is set in America), the two are the glue that holds the play together. They are ably supported by the voice of the Doctor, Hugh Tappin, a presence often felt but never seen.
Lara Marks ably directs and the play moves at a fast pace (bar one unfortunately long set change in the middle). It is suited to the wonderfully intimate space of the Burton Taylor as the audience feels personally involved in Tom and Jenny's journey. In selecting Dying Light Lara has scratched the surface of American theatre and found a fine writer whose work does not appear to have ever been performed.
Jason. D. Martin skilfully weaves the characters' journey, and packs the play with humour to offset the difficult subject matter. From the initially meeting of our two lovers, where the topic turns to sci-fi cinema and in particular Alien (birthing scene fabulously performed by Charitha) through to a development in the second half that surprises and manages to be handled without throwing the play off kilter, Martin is definitely a writer worth further theatrical exploration on the UK stage.
On a cold, wet winter's night, a play about terminal illness can be a bit of a tall ask. However a well discovered play, with a strong cast, in a great theatre space can go a long way to making an hour and 15 minutes exploring cancer well worth a watch. It is in particular worth seeing simply for an outstanding performance of Charitha Chandran, who will hopefully be popping up in more Oxford theatre throughout her time at the University.