Monday, 24 October 2016

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer-The Yes to Life review!

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer – book by Bryony Kimmings and Brian Lobel, music Tom Parkinson.

Dorfman Theatre, opened 19

While it’s certainly not the taboo subject it was a few years ago, it still requires a stretch of the imagination to think of cancer as a great subject for a musical. But with A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, Bryony Kimmings has pulled off a coup. Kimmings declares on her website that she is ‘inspired by the taboos, stigmas, anomalies and social injustices around her’ and ‘creates mind-blowing, multi-platform art works to provoke chang
e.’ And she doesn’t pull her punches. All the serious and painful and raw stuff is there on stage at the Dorfman Theatre on the South Bank, but there is irreverence, anger, some good songs, dancing glittery mutant cancers and plenty of laughs too.

In this co-production with Complicite Associates, and in association with HOME, Manchester, the Pacifist’s Guide is set in one of those chilly, antiseptic hospital lobbies that we’ve all experienced. There are numerous pairs of swing doors leading from this space – and above each sits a big illuminated ‘EXIT’ sign. Of course all of the cancer patients we meet want to be out of there, but there’s no exit from the reality that each one of them has a cancer diagnosis. One character is in denial about her ovarian cancer, another with lung cancer wants to make amends with his estranged daughter, a third has financial worries and is afraid to tell his employers the truth about his absence from work and a fourth faces the possibility of passing on to her baby her own genetic predisposition to developing cancer. At the centre of this, Emma has a young baby undergoing tests. We follow her journey and struggle through to the searingly painful moment when she accepts the diagnosis.

This could have been the end of the show, but we slip into another gear for the final sequence. As part of this finale. members of the cast name friends and family members who have been diagnosed with cancer, or who have died. Then the audience is invited to do the same. Unexpectedly for such a very British institution, it only takes a couple of seconds for people to start offering up a litany of loved ones’ names. Way beyond poignancy, this simple device has the powerful impact of driving home just how widespread the disease is, that most of us will encounter cancer at some point during our lives and that we will need to find our own ways of dealing with it.

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