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Dying to Please You - a comedy about death

Author: Leila Hawkins
11 May 2017

Dying to Please You is the play about Tess Cartwright's real-life story of losing her 25-year-old boyfriend to brain cancer. The subject matter may be dark, but it is a comedy that is making audiences laugh out loud and aims to encourage positive conversations about death and dying.

A mere six weeks after Vid Warren died, Tess Cartwright was standing on a stage balancing an urn containing Vid's ashes on her head. The auditorium was in complete silence not knowing what to expect next, but they soon burst into applause when the urn fell and she caught it with both hands. 

However audiences have not always been this receptive to her humorous take on the death of her boyfriend. In Los Angeles and Belgium for instance, she says her stand-up show went down "like a lead balloon." 

She explains:

"I feel like the material I was exploring was so personal that both in LA and in Belgium my audience were not able to see past my grief and instead just felt sympathy for me. It was still powerful, and the audience definitely responded, but not with laughter. It was a very heavy feeling while performing it. After that I thought, I am no martyr. I want to perform with other people and explore death in a variety of ways, not just about me and my story."

Tess believes telling the story this way is exactly what Vid would have wanted, and she hopes it will encourage people to open up when it comes to talking about death and dying. 

"Through my experience it seems that generally British culture deals with it like every other hard, emotional subject. Suppress it, drink tea and make painfully small talk to one another about the weather."

She finds performing therapeutic, as while it exposes all her emotions, including the sadness of losing her partner, she uses it to poke fun at the subject of mortality. She has also said she finds it comforting to talk about him in a theatre setting and making people laugh as she tells the story. 

A performance artist specialising in circus acts,  she met Vid at the Eden Festival in Scotland in 2010. He was a beatboxer who stood out from the others by performing with a harmonica and juggling at the same time. Dressed in a sharply cut suit, he performed at festivals and achieved a large degree of success playing all over the world. 

Together they created the show Beatrick, and toured around China and North America. When they arrived back in the UK Vid began to show symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as incurable brain cancer.  He was given a 10 per cent chance of living for more than two years. 

When he turned 25 they started to write his last wishes. They made sure Vid's last months were enjoyable by fulfilling his dream of travelling to Madagascar and visiting friends around the world. They then organised a huge goodbye party with all their friends. 

Speaking about what she aims to do with this show, Tess says:

"I want my play to comment on the universalities of illness, death and grief. The show is rooted in my personal story, and gives my audience space for all the human feelings to come up when reflecting on themselves. It is something everyone can relate to and I want people who watch the show to leave with a new perspective on how to approach the bereaved, and people who are terminally ill."

The show is currently touring throughout the UK. For tickets and more information visit Modest Genius Theatre Company For more about Tess visit Miss Popularity

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