A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer*** (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: November 13, 2016 in Theatre

pacifists-guide-1280x720-nottI feel that I know a lot about Bryony Kimmings. At the 2015 Edinburgh Festival, I loved her show Fake It ’til You Make It, which she performed with her own husband, skipping lightly through his battle with clinical depression. At that time she was in the later stages of pregnancy and this new show was already in preparation, but we now learn that her baby was to be diagnosed with a form of cancer and it is her own story that provides the lynchpin for the show.

Kimmings directs, provides song lyrics and co-writes the book with Brian Lobel. The music is composed by Tom Parkinson. The setting is the waiting room in a hospital oncology unit, made suitably austere in Lucy Osborne’s set. Inflatables, expanding to fill the space provide crude symbolism and an excellent company of a dozen performs the songs. Characters include a mother (representing Kimmings) frantically concerned for her infant, another mother awaiting test results to determine whether a genetic condition has been passed on to her child, a chain-smoking lung cancer sufferer, a young man afraid to reveal his illness to workmates and harassed by his fussing mother and an old lady being persuafef that the only dignified exit for her is to receive palliative care in a hospice. The snippets of drama all ring true and some carry considerable emotional clout.

The show’s claims to worthiness are off-putting and there are times when making unpalatable subjects entertaining feels too much of a strain, but, overall, it works surprisingly well.

Performance date: 28 October 2016

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