A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer:
It’s not everyday you get a to see a piece of theatre confronting head on one of life’s great fears, Cancer, a disease that most us can say has touched or affected our lives in some way. This extraordinary emotional, rollercoaster of a show, addresses without holding back, a topic that has no limit and so many never dare to trespass on, especially in the form of a musical. In co-production with the National Theatre and Complicite Associates, director and writer, Bryony Kimmings, (Performance Artist by trade) tells a story very close to her own heart, as she has had to deal with her own son Frank’s illness throughout this period. Bryony says ‘The stories in this show are true, because I don’t tell fake stories’. Verbatim theatre techniques are used to creative the narrative and, it was this truth and honesty that really touched me.
Lucy Osbourne’s set design creates a bleak hospital waiting room, which is cleverly encroached upon by inflatable cancer cells, which continually invade the stage at an ever-growing rate. It’s here we meet single mum Emma, played by with perfect fragility and integrity by Amanda Hadingue, who is at the hospital with her baby Owen who is undergoing a series of tests and frightening treatments, undoubtedly every parent’s nightmare. Here she encounters other cancer patients each with their own painful story to tell, including Shannon played by Rose Shalloo in a poignantly real teenage interpretation of a pregnant 18year old, and Stephen, who is advised to use a sperm bank before treatment and is struggling with having his mum fussing over him during his appointment, brilliantly portrayed by Gary Wood. Golda Rosheuvel’s plays Laura, who is being encouraged to start looking at hospices but is still in denial and in search of a miracle cure, her performance and extraordinary solo really did touch the hearts of the audience.
However this is very much an ensemble piece and there are no weak links, the talented cast beautifully directed by Kimmings, tackled this painful subject with humour, irony and breathtaking sensitivity, creating strong believable characters, all trying to manage their wretched disease with dignity.
I was very stuck by Tom Parkinson’s brilliant musical score, the songs were punchy and to the point, crossing various genres, yet they struck all the right emotional cords. They were memorable and however depressing the topic, they somehow managed to entertain and retain some moments of hope.
In the show’s devastating finale, we hear a voice over from Bryony who invites the cast and audience to remember the people they know themselves who have lost lives or are living this illness. It’s a tragic yet universal story that touches the hearts of many.
Funnily enough as I sat before the show waiting for the curtain to come up, a glamorous, larger than life character was finding her seat in the aisle where I was sitting, she took the empty seat next to mine, I was reading my program when she pointed out that she was Bryony Kimmings, and in jest said ‘You’d better laugh’. No pressure then! But I did laugh and I did cry, and it was her who squeezed my arm in a form of support before the final curtain went down.
A Pacifist’s Guide To The War on Cancer is running at The Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre until 29 November for information and tickets visit The National Theatre website
Images Credit – Mark Douet