Thursday, 20 October 2016

FOUR STAR REVIEW for A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer


A musical about cancer may not have you running for the box office to nab some tickets but with a new and sensational production just opened at the National, I urge you give it a try.
A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer, just opened at the National’s Dorfman stage has been co-written by Bryony Kimmings. Best known for her autobiographical solo and two person shows, this is new territory for her. But in true Kimmings style she has attacked it with gusto and has given a show which takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions - that will leave you teary eyed at the end.
She was commissioned to write the piece by theatre company Complicite and with a cast of 12 plus a five-piece band has set it in a hospital in a 24-hour period.
We follow the day in the lives of some ordinary people - a man with testicular cancer who is encouraged to bank his sperm, a woman for whom all forms of treatment has failed and is now in denial about having to live out the rest of her days in a hospice, a man who despite his lung cancer insists on smoking and a teenage girl, pregnant, waiting to see if she has passed on the cancer gene to her unborn child.
In the midst of all this we follow Emma and her baby son Owen who have arrived so he can have tests to see if he too is about to enter the Kingdom of the Sick as it’s called.
The whole piece is relentless. We see them waiting for appointments, be given diagnoses, the despair, anger, denial and rage when the outlook is bleak and jubilation when something goes right.
Intermixed with the narrative is of course the music which provides not just light relief but laugh out loud moments too as well as the cancer cells which are represented by some of the cast who follow the patients around and the giant inflatables that push their way onto the stage and into our lives.
Some of it is in your face - but in a way that’s the point. Kimmings says in the programme notes she wrote it because we don’t talk about cancer enough and in ways that mean something to the people it affects - about the horrors, the highs, the lows and the day to day reality of it.
What she has done is beautiful, tender, emotional and at times hard to watch. But watch you must because it is amazing, executed brilliantly by a strong cast and by the end the emotion in the air was tangible with many in the audience in tears.

A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer is on at the National Theatre until Tuesday, November 29. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

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