TALKING about death is something we Britons don’t really do.
Losing a loved one and coping with grief can be difficult enough, but it can also be a time when unresolved conflicts and old family tensions rise to the surface.
All of these emotions, and more, are captured in a new play, Jim, winner of the Scottish Daily Mail 2014 Drama UK and Edinburgh Festival Fringe Drama Award, currently being performed at the festival until August 23.
The drama, written by Drama Studio London graduate David O’Connor, aims to raise awareness of respiratory disease, which claims an estimated 25,000 lives in the UK each year.
Inspired by real-life events, the 40-minute play follows the eponymous Jim, a lung disease sufferer, in the final two days of his life.
It centres round the fractious relationship of his two sons – the play’s writer, David and his half-brother James – as they deal with their father’s imminent death.
“Our aim is to show the reality of death and that sometimes light can come out of the darkest moments,” says Jim’s director, Leanne Johnson, who is making her directorial debut.
The brothers’ relationship is a complex one, coloured by years of betrayal, a family secret and clashing ideals. It is exactly this raw emotion that director Leanne wants to capture on stage. “We don’t sugar-coat the fact Jim had difficulties in connecting with David,” explains Leanne.
A lot of the tension between David and his brother and father stems from the fact James shared a closer relationship with his father.
Jim, a staunch traditionalist, wanted his sons to pursue the same career as him, which David has defied by moving to New York to train as an actor.
She adds: “Jim had very strong ideals about his working-class roots. The play touches a lot on family ideals and where you’re from.”
She adds: “When close to death, people can be set in their ways and have a certain way of thinking.”
There is also a deeper, harrowing reason, for David’s resentment towards his brother and father. He was unaware Jim was his biological father until the age of 12.
Leanne explains: “David felt a sort of resentment towards his brother and how his relationship was far closer to their father. He felt slightly betrayed.”
This never quite shows itself but is strongly apparent in the simmering anger and palpable tension between the brothers.
Leanne explains, “It’s very difficult for them to show emotion towards one another.”
Uncomfortable viewing, no doubt – but it is precisely this awkwardness Leanne wants the audience to share.
Amid the dissent and conflict, however, there are lighter moments.
Leanne says there are sometimes funny moments during a family conversation - with in-jokes, where people are arguing but also pulling each other’s legs.
If, by the end of the play, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, then we can safely assume Leanne has succeeded in her mission.
Jim was written, directed and performed by former students of Drama Studio London in Grange Road, Ealing. It is currently being performed at SpaceUK, Jury’s Inn, Edinburgh, on August 7-9, 11-16 and 18-23.
For more information, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/jim