As I watched my dead partner’s play, I heard his voice again

Speaking his words: the cast of Melbourne Theatre Company’s Heartbreak Choir.Credit:Jeff Busby

I walked into the Sumner, a theatre I’d watched Aidan’s work in before. I took my seat near the front. There were two spare seats next to me, until an older man arrived and asked if he should sit next to me or the other guy. I shrugged, wishing I could tell him to leave a spare between us, but he plonked down next to me and started chatting.

I felt out of place. The man leant close, “Do you know what the play is about?”

For a second, I was tempted to tell him about Aidan, because I wanted a witness to why I was there. But something stopped me. “I think it’s about a choir, and maybe a small country town.”

The man took that as an invitation to tell me about growing up in Mansfield, but I wanted to be alone in my thoughts, so I snapped a quick photo of the stage and tried to send it to my daughter, but it wouldn’t go through.

As the lights went down, I realised I was holding my breath. My shoulders tense and high. I couldn’t settle in the chair.

Within five minutes of Maude Davey taking the stage, people started to laugh. I tried to join in, but I kept hearing Aidan’s voice. Writers have idiosyncratic ways of using language, and his is comedic and sharp. I could hear Aidan making jokes with the kids, laughing with his siblings, his friends. The dialogue was like a patchwork of our lives together.

By interval, I was almost breathing normally. As we filed out of the theatre, a song came on and I realised it was one my daughter had picked for the playlist she’d devised of Aidan’s favourites. The regular soundtrack to our house.

I made it to the bar for a double scotch on the rocks, which I drank too fast. I was like a ghost, eavesdropping on conversations. I stood alone near the window, knowing that upstairs was a memorial to him, and knowing I couldn’t look at it.


I ran into a friend and her partner, and she hugged me until I felt like I was present again.

We went back in for the second half. By the time the final song was sung, the audience applause was real and generous. As the house lights came on, the man beside me said, “Well, I needed that.”

I wanted to ask what he meant, so that I could report back to Aidan, but he was shuffling away down the row. Around me people talked and laughed and remembered moments they loved as they left the theatre.

And I followed them outside, into the night, ready to turn back and listen to Aidan’s words all over again.

  • The Heartbreak Choir runs until May 28

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