WILDGOOSE Theatre will stage the York premiere of Laura Wade's Colder Than Here at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, from October 18 to 21.

This unsentimental comedy of love, death and grief combines raw emotion and delicate black humour in its story of control, cardboard coffins and woodland burials as a family comes to terms with the impending death of a woman with bone cancer. As they prepare for the inevitable, the conversations that many of us dread duly unfold.

"I like the idea of trying to make friends with death," said Wade of her debut play, premiered at the Soho Theatre, London, in 2005. "It is, after all, such a big part of our lives, but we barely acknowledge it."

Director Louise Larkinson fell in love with Wade’s play when she saw a performance at Keswick’s Theatre by The Lake in September 2012, only days after she herself had received a cancer diagnosis: "This brush with death made me realise how important it is to face mortality, and how theatre is an excellent way of communicating this reality," she says. "Since that time, I’ve been determined to direct Colder Than Here in York and was delighted when Andy Love’s Wildgoose Theatre Company agreed to produce it."

Now that wish has become reality, Larkinson says: "Death is the ultimate fact of life, but in an age when many of us might prefer to see death as an optional extra, Laura Wade’s play is a timely wake-up call."

Reflecting on her own experiences, Larkinsion says: "It can be a lonely experience being diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer; regardless of how much support might be available. It immediately transports a person into the land of the sick, while the land of the well carries on alongside them.

"Laura Wade captures this transition with remarkable poignancy and humour, but without sentimentality. She doesn’t shy away from some of the unpleasant details that can happen to the physical body leading up to death."

All of this triggered Larkinson's desire to direct the piece. "The character of Myra, who is terminally ill with bone cancer, often finds herself surrounded by her two daughters and her husband, who don’t know what to do or how to react," she says.

"Myra expresses sadness that their lives are going to continue without her and she won’t be there to see how they develop. Her loneliness is palpable, even more so because she tries to take control of an uncontrollable situation.

"In real life this painful, often unbearable, reality is hard to give voice to, but a fictional play in the hands of a skilled playwright,such as Wade, can provide a safe container, which enables an audience to contemplate the frightening truths surrounding illness and death."

Larkinson found watching the play a comforting experience, rather than a disquieting one, "though this might not be the case for everyone," she says. "To be invited to witness characters/people at their most vulnerable, dissipated for me the shock and isolation of a cancer diagnosis and provided another reason for wanting to direct the play.

"Wade also cleverly uses metaphor to communicate the hard reality of dealing with a terminal illness. The action takes place inside a house of disrepair  - Myra says "It’s aching" -  and the saga of a broken boiler is a thread that runs throughout the script. 

"In addition, I was fascinated by the dynamic between the two sisters; older sister Harriet and younger sister Jenna. Being a younger sister myself, I was drawn to exploring this relationship and how it changed during the play in response to their mother’s impending death."

Company regular Claire Morley, who appeared in Wildgoose's spring production of Jez Butterworth's mystery drama The River, will take the role of daughter Jenna, joined by Sophie Buckley as Jenna’s sister, Harriet. John Lister will play their father, Alec, with Beryl Nairn as wife and mother, Myra, who is busy sorting out her funeral arrangements. "You have to find things to do. When you’re off work with dying," says Myra.

Larkinson's cast will be accompanied by violinist Gill Dickers at the 7.30pm performances on October 18 to 20 and 2.30pm matinees on October 20 and 21. Looking ahead, the themes and discussions evoked by Colder Than Here will be explored further during York’s Dead Good Festival in May 2019, run by St Leonard’s Hospice, Next Door But One and many others.

Tickets cost £12, concessions £10, at ridinglights.org/friargate/, on 01904 613000 or in person from the box office.

Did you know?

Colder Than Here playwright Laura Wade was named on the 2015 BAFTA Breakthrough Brits list and her latest play, Home, I’m Darling, had a sold-out run at the National Theatre, London, from July 24 to September 5. Home I'm Darling, an unsettling comedy about one woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950s' housewife, is Wade's first original play since Posh, her 2010 satire on the riotous​ Bullingdon Club and class division.