Review: A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer

Carys Rose Thomas shares her thoughts on Bryony Kimmings' 'A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer'.

Carys Rose Thomas
15th February 2018
Image: Mark Douet

As the play’s writer Bryony Kimmings pointed out at the beginning of yesterday night’s play - almost everyone knows someone who has had cancer, has had cancer, or will have cancer.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about the show at first. Lots of Cancer discourses can be too simplistically filled with sorrow and doom, too unrealistically simplified and frankly, they just piss me off. Not this play.

The play felt honest and organic. With live recorded accounts of women who’ve had cancer themselves, as well as the fantastic Lara Vetch on stage throughout, telling her story. She reiterated a few times that performing wasn’t exactly her thing - not that you could tell. She performed with immense confidence and for someone who claimed not to be a singer, her voice left me with a terrible case of damp-eye. One really interesting aspect of this show - something that hadn’t previously ever crossed my mind - was how it dealt with patriarchy within medicine and struggles only women cancer patients face. The show encouraged taking a view of the disease that is all too often neglected in films/books/shows that tell stories around cancer.

Cancer is a personal issue, and in the telling of any cancer story people weave themselves into it and identify with various aspects of others’ experiences. It felt like this show acknowledged that, breaking down the audience/show barrier and managing to create a really personal experience in Northern Stage’s Stage 1. It really did feel like a show that would never be seen in quite the same way twice.

All of the performers, like the audience, brought something to it on a personal level. Though that, they managed to tie together upbeat music and 80s costumes with heartbreaking real-life accounts from cancer patients, as well as a brief trek through the land of the sick (if you wondered, it sort of looks like a depressing smoky jungle). The play’s eclectic style made sense, because it made about as much sense as cancer itself. Something unpredictable, something you laugh cry and scream at, something that can’t be simply explained in some sad cliched film but translated brilliantly into this show.

Go, watch it. Cry at it. Laugh at it. Tell everyone you know to seek it out and absorb every second it has to offer. It tells the kinds of stories I’d like to hear more of in a way I wish I saw more.

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