Image: l-r Eva Alexander, Elexi Walker, Lara Veitch, Bryony Kimmings, Lottie Vallis, Gemma Storr. Photo by Mark Douet
By Allison Birt
A Pacifist’s Guide to the War On Cancer tackles women’s experiences with cancer in the unexpectedly cheerful form of a musical. However, don’t let the word musical and the seemingly innocent poster fool you; this performance is distressingly beautiful. It’s not a show where the audience leaves with a smile, you’ll leave the auditorium sobbing.
The play follows the writer (Bryony Kimmings) and her journey of writing the play. It did not follow one story the whole way through; the play flitted between Bryony explaining the process of making the play, writers of books on cancer, actors putting a body to the voice of cancer patients and a cancer patient telling her story on stage. The purpose of the play was to demonstrate that cancer is different from person to person, the writer wanted to deconstruct the metaphors of cancer as a ‘battle’ and show the brutally honest experiences of cancer patients.
Four actors took on multiple roles between the writers and the cancer patients, while Lara Veitch (the cancer patient who played a pivotal part in the show) played herself. The stand out performance, in my opinion, came from Elexi Walker. Her energy onstage was mesmerising and her monologue near the end of the show was immensely powerful. There was an overwhelming amount of content in the musical which was sometimes tough to keep up with, especially due to the highly emotional nature of cancer. I found that the songs were underwhelming, I really did want to like the musical aspect of this show but unfortunately, I found that the songs were repetitive and the lyrics didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that the actual production possessed.
The writing was extremely naturalistic but at some points lyrical and this worked extremely well. The choreographed movement segments were my favourite, for example at one point when Lara Veitch was listing the things that made her angry about having cancer, the other three actors on stage pulled a long string of paper from a printer, starting off extremely quickly and then transitioning into slow motion. This simplistic movement was spectacular to watch.
One particularly striking moment happened near the end of the show when the writer was waiting for her son to be diagnosed. Bryony sat still in the middle of the stage with a spotlight on her and the audience was overwhelmed by a cacophony of piercing sounds. The audience was forced to stare at the backdrop – the word ‘cancer’ in bold letters hung across the back of the stage. This made the audience feel uncomfortable but it was so poignant when the curtain dropped to reveal the ‘kingdom of the sick’ (a concept the writer read in a book about cancer and explored throughout the show) with Lara sat amongst the ominous trees.
This show is a hard watch, but the production is not one to miss.