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Walking the emotional tightrope

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, Belgrade Theatre B2, until Feb 17.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘a musical about cancer’ but did think it was a very brave project for someone to undertake. The production turned out to be entertaining, educative, thought provoking, occasionally amusing and extremely moving. The writer, Bryony Kimmings, (pictured above with Elexi Walker, right) conducted considerable research over a 4 year period involving background reading and meeting with numerous doctors and patients some of whom have since sadly passed away. Bryony herself acts as narrator and is ably assisted by five talented female actors and musicians including Lara Veitch who performs as herself and we learn about her rare inherited genetic predisposition towards cancer called Li Fraumeni Syndrome. The show successfully challenges the typical media portrayal of cancer in terms of battles and heroism and the frequent use of euphemisms and platitudes. The disease is shown from a pacifistic and feminist perspective and we discover how it can be painful, lonely, frightening and full of misery. We are also provided with some practical advice on how best to support a friend or relative with cancer and how we should avoid wearing our ‘cancer face’ displaying pity whilst trying to look supportive. As we progress through the one act play we suddenly hear about how, during the research, Bryony had to cope with her own baby developing a serious illness and the empathy and warmth between herself and Lara is portrayed with great sensitivity. The final part of the production is almost like a group therapy session as we hear a testimony from a cancer sufferer from the audience and we are invited to shout out the names of patients that we may know. The show was indeed a very brave project but successfully met its aim of examining cancer from a totally different perspective and challenged many of our preconceived views.

Picture by Mark Douet

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