“I was wondering if you would help me to die”
It’s kind of an accepted truth now that if Olivia Colman has been cast in something, it is usually in order to win a Bafta for the unerringly heart-breaking way that she breaks a nation’s heart by crying. Whether her performance here in The Dilemma, the first instalment of The Secrets, wins another is for the future to know but be warned, it is an extremely compelling example of this truism.
The Secrets is a series of stand-alone dramas commissioned by the BBC and featuring four “upcoming” writers although in the case of this first one, Nick Payne could well be considered to already have upped and came in the world of theatre (Constellations being his most famous and awarded work). And it will come as little surprise to regular theatregoers that his first piece is a musing on mortality, following hard on the tear-soaked heels of The Art of Dying.
The Dilemma stars Alison Steadman as Angela a woman suffering from terminal cancer who asks something huge of her daughter Pippa. Pippa is six months pregnant but as a vet, has access to the kind of chemicals that put pets to sleep and across the 25 minutes of the story, we see her wrestle with the issue as she debates with her husband who is fiercely against it and with herself as to whether she can go through with it.
Payne’s writing here is beautifully spare and Dominic Savage’s direction uses these spaces to say huge amounts through the gorgeously sensitive acting that Steadman, Colman and Steve Oram as the husband deliver, often wordlessly. Even when they do talk, the dialogue is often low-key and understated – so much more being said and conveyed in bites of awkward conversation rather than eloquently composed speechifying. Delicately beautiful and harrowing as ever as Colman commandeers our tear ducts once again.