Writer: Bryony Kimmings and Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
Music: Tom Parkinson
Director: Kirsty Housley
Reviewer: Daryl Holden
Throughout the course of human history, there have been many wars. Although the reasons behind each usually tend to differ, in every case, each side has known who the enemy was and how to combat them. However, what do you do when you don’t know how to fight back? What do you do when you have to fight yourself? That’s the exact question that A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer sets out to answer.
Utilising aspects from both verbatim and musical theatre, Bryony Kimming’s piece offers an insightful, honest and sometimes tear-jerking insight into the actual lives of the cancer patients who don’t tend to make the headlines because they aren’t classed as “brave” or “a fighter”, but deal with all the same pains.
Kimmings starts the show by introducing herself to her audience and then spends the rest of the piece detailing the events that led to its creation, aided by her friend Lara Veitch who also offers her own personal stories about her dealings with cancer and how the two came to meet. If it were anything but an honest storytelling experience, this piece wouldn’t be able to have the same dialogue with its audience that makes it so unique.
On stage, playing every character, person and interaction that the two went through is a talented group of four actors who are each musically gifted. The clever inclusion of music and undercutting soundtracks at just the right moments through the show just help to make the impactful moments of the storytelling even more hard-hitting. Each song is deeply personal and tactfully worded that they help to further the story when a monologue just can’t cut it.
The only real problem that this piece seems to suffer from is a slow start, filled with a sometimes cumbersome amount of exposition and detail that although was needed, could have been more evenly distributed throughout. However, this can quickly be excused when the company finally hit their stride in the second act and a lot more inventive elements begin to be used. Paper slowly yet surely litters the stage and the backdrop finally falls to reveal an absolutely beautifully designed forest set piece that only further helps to remind people of how, although things look like they are picking up, you never really get “out of the woods”.
There is no denying that this piece visually stunning. It will hold your attention from start to end as the stage becomes more and more cluttered as time goes on, representing all the pages of ideas that went into this show. However, that is not its main strength. Instead, its redeeming feature is how it handles this sensitive topic.
At the end of a very powerful sequence and song, the cast take a seat at the edge of the stage and begin to converse with their audience, during which they ask those present to acknowledge those they have lost to this disease. They can do this because the relationship they’ve so intricately created allows for an air of safety and ease, and in turn creates one of the most profound atmospheres you can ever hope to find in theatre. One of togetherness, fear and heartbreak. The audience begin to tell the company of their own stories, and how it affected them. It’s incredibly moving, and all achieved through the beauty of conversation.
A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer never performs to its audience, it talks to them. It addresses one of the biggest challenges we face as a species, which has affected almost every one of us in one way or another. Their personal stories, tone and theatrical style makes this piece stand out in a field that sometimes tries too hard to achieve the same standard. It’s enough to make you sit and think that even if there’ll never be a guide to this particular war, that doesn’t mean we give up.
Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Mark Douet