Left – Elexi Walker, Lottie Vallis and Eva Alexander. Cover – Bryony Kimmings. Photos – Mark Douet
Two scaffold, stage left and right, stand sentinel over a drum kit, keyboard and guitar within a square. A woman enters, stage left, heading for the instruments but is stopped at the threshold of the square like there is some invisible force field blocking her passage, but it's quickly made clear that that the thing stopping her is her own volition, not some cosmic force. She ascends the scaffold stage right and introduces herself as the writer of the show we have come to see, A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer.
The show has started.
As she delivers a chatty patter, we learn of the background of the show, its origins and influences, as other women enter the space, all loath to enter the square.
One of the influences of A Pacifist's Guide To The War On Cancer is Susan Sontag's book, Illness as Metaphor, and the square acts as metaphor for the borders between the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. One may also entertain the idea of the scaffolds as a metaphor for gallows humour.
From atop her tower, writer performer, Bryony Kimmings, tells how the language of mass media that has metastasised into common vernacular did not sit well with her – terms like battle, fight, survivors and heroes – as if victims were bestowed with the skills of a boxer on delivery of diagnosis and the bell rang for the first round of dealing with the disease. Rejecting the pugilist image, she and her co-creators, Brian Lobel and director Kirsty Housley nevertheless put the 'fist' into 'pacifist' as they punch and pummel media and medical misogyny.
A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer could well have been called A Feminist's Guide to the War on Cancer as there is a decidedly female focus delivered by an all female cast. And that's because, although cancer is gender blind, there is a prevailing “professional” and public notion of treatments and procedures that are sexist, specifically in the area of breast removal and reconstruction.
A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer jabs away at these pre-conceived notions with feints and parries into cold, hard scientific facts of what cancer actually is, then produces an awesome uppercut with the introduction of performer Lara Veitch who has Li Fraumeni Syndrome, a rare inherited genetic predisposition towards cancer, and has faced the trenches of tumour trauma on many fronts and shows us the scars to prove it. Through dialogue and demonstration, she advices on the seven stages of being a good friend to someone who has cancer, advice invaluable to all genders.
There are more surprises to come, including a hyper theatrical presentation of the torment Kimmings endures at the diagnosis of her infant son and a knock-out denouement of premeditated audience participation.
Kimmings and Veitch are joined on stage by a quartet of performers – Eva Alexander, Elizabeth Esguerra, Lottie Vallis and Gemma Storr who sing and play and characterise the imperfections, the fears, the helplessness and the hopefulness that make us so messily human.
A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer is gosh factor cathartic theatre with a reach that extends our gasp.
No sentient being is immune from its power.
Complicite Associates presents
A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer
by Bryony Kimmings and Brian Lobel with Kirsty Housley
Director Kirsty Housley
Venue: York Theatre | Seymour Centre, Corner of City Rd & Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 22 – 29 March 2018
Tickets: $69 – $53
Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com | (02) 9351 7940