Review: A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer

Cancer.

It’s a scary word, you shouldn’t say it – mustn’t put a dampener on the conversation.

It certainly isn’t anyone’s first choice for a musical topic.

But isn’t that strange? For an illness that affects everyone on various scales, it’s so rarely spoken about in a true and honest way. Whether it be your grandparent, your friend, your sibling or you, at least one name comes to mind when someone mentions cancer.

This is why Bryony Kimmings and Complicate decided to tackle it once and for all.

And thank goodness they did.

We follow Emma (Amanda Hadingue) who is taking her baby to the hospital for a check up after some concerning results. During her time there, she is dragged through the wacky Alice In Wonderland style world of the Kingdom of the Sick. To create the physical presence of cancer, she is introduced to all-singing, all-dancing cancer cells wearing colourful, sparkly padded bubbles, giving an almost tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee vibe. They tend to lurk around and follow the cancer patients throughout. Various shaped air bags burst through the hospital doors as the show progresses, until the whole stage is taken up by monstrous cancer cells, suffocating the lives of those affected.

amy-booth-steel-in-a-pacifists-guide-to-the-war-on-cancer-photo-by-mark-douet-_31b7748
Amy Booth-Steel as a cancer cell (Sourced from BakChromeeBoy blog)

Emma meets a variety of cancer patients during her stay, all going through a smorgasbord of emotions. Laura (Golda Rosheuvel) is in denial about her terminal cancer, stripping off to a reveal a sparkly catsuit and singing a disco number; Rosheuvel plays her with such strength and enthusiasm that you can’t help but admire her stubborn nature. Shannon (Rose Shalloo) is another stand-out character who is waiting to find out whether her unborn child carries her cancerous gene; her head is firmly on her shoulders and she is fearless when she sings her ballad Peace of Mind.

the-guardian
Some of the cast members including Emma (Amanda Hadingue) and Gia (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) sourced from The Guardian.

But this show doesn’t dwell on the tragic moments; it grabs cancer by the balls through humour and anger. The ensemble song Fuck This is by far a highlight as they boldly reject society’s dictatorship over their emotions; the expectation to remain positive is slammed down, they embrace their rage and it’s beautifully enlightening. This song is led by Gia (Naana Agyei-Ampadu), a passionate, black American woman who serves as the young, feminist voice of the group; her voice is outstanding.

Admittedly, it needs a bit of tightening in parts and some ideas could be explored in a different way. For example, Mark (Hal Fowler), a lung cancer patient still very much attached to his cigarettes is a challenging character to come to terms with. Within the time given, he perhaps required some more development to aid our understanding of his story.

Nevertheless, it’s confrontational, funny and heartbreaking; near the end the fourth wall is broken and the actors begin to reveal their characters as real people. The audience are then invited to speak the name of someone they know who has been affected by cancer. The whole room murmurs for a good two minutes and it’s one of the most powerful and solidifying moments I’ve ever encountered. I’m not quite brave enough to speak the name I have in mind, but it’s there in the room and I feel a sense of peace.

I leave feeling raw, but enlightened. At first, I wasn’t sure I could face a show about a topic so close to my heart, but it truly exceeded my expectations. Theatre is there to entertain and challenge, and Complicate certainly achieved this.

If you liked this then please do subscribe to my blog and give me a follow @tesshenderson94 Check out my previous review on a play about the infamous Beastie Boys… Licensed to Ill.

Advertisements

My Top 10 Must-See Productions of 2016!

New year means new shows! Here’s a list I compiled of all the local productions I plan to see in 2016!

1. Wendy and Peter Pan – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

11th December 2015-31st January 2016.

I impulsively bought tickets for this as a birthday treat in January. As an RSC Key member, the tickets only cost me a fiver each – so why not?

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the RSC productions I have seen before, and this one in particular looks amazing. Wendy is played by Mariah Gale who I saw previously in Measure for Measure as Isabella, and she was captivating.

I’ve had a little look at some images from the show and it looks magical, fun and a little dark, (for good measure). Also, the flying scenes and Captain Hook’s ship look incredible.

I literally feel like a kid at Christmas. V.Excited

   2. We Are Brontë – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

19th-23rd January 2016.

As a big Brontë fan, I’m really looking forward to seeing this wacky production.

With a mix of physical theatre, clowning, improvisation and stand-up; the gothic themes of romance, repression and madness are seen from a completely different perspective. This show happens to be on at the same time as Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic (which is my number 3!), so it will be interesting to see two very different sides to the gothic genre.

  3.  Jane Eyre – Bristol Old Vic.
21st January-6th February 2016.

Jane Eyre is in my top 5 list of favourite books ever. This production came to the Old Vic in 2014 and I missed it, so I am determined to go and see this. If there is a single show I will make time for, it’s this one.

3706
Madeleine Worrall as Jane Eyre at The Bristol Old Vic. Sourced from ‘The Guardian’.

I’ve heard some really fantastic things about it. From the pictures I’ve seen the set looks simplistic, yet effective, with various levels used stylistically throughout. There’s even a live band on stage which adds to the dynamic and passionate feel to the play. Just watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.

 

 

  4.  A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

26th-30th January 2016.

I have already bought a ticket to see this with my friend Georgia! This play has been adapted from a book by Eimear McBride and follows the story of an Irish girl from the womb to twenty years old. We see her battling through life as a child from a deprived Irish background attempting to make sense of the world around her.

I’m really looking forward to watching this because it’s so rare that you see truthful female representations on stage, as I’ve commented on before in my earlier blog. I’ve also heard that the writing is incredibly strong and resilient, which I hope will help inspire my own creative writing.

  5.  Toast – Theatre Royal Bath.

7th– 12th March 2016.

ToastMK
Matthew Kelly in ‘Toast’ at Theatre Royal Bath. Sourced from TRB website.

This play was first performed in 1999 and was written by Richard Bean who later wrote the hilarious play One Man, Two Guvnors which I saw last year, and the very successful musical Made in Dagenham.

There’s no denying that he is a very talented playwright, hence why I would like to check out this comedy drama. Set in a baking factory in Hull, we follow 7 men facing a crisis that could change everything.

I’m hoping it’s as good as his other work – we’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

  6.  1972: The Future of Sex – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

8th-26th March 2016.

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Awkward sexual encounters of the 70’s discussed in all its garishness.

I keep asking myself why I have added this to my list.

I just reckon it’ll be a bit different. Also, they won the Stage Award for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is pretty darn impressive.

   7. The Witches of Eastwick – Redgrave Theatre, Bristol.

9th– 12th March 2016.

It’s a UWE show! I keep meaning to see this musical as I’ve been told multiple times by musical lovers that it’s amazing. I have some friends involved in this too which is exciting; I always enjoy going to support my actor mates!

All I know so far is that it’s raunchy and the songs are really good.

Sounds ideal.

  8.  Trainspotting – The Loco Klub, Bristol.

6th-17th April 2016.

I saw this production at the Edinburgh Fringe and it was incredible. It was a bold, gritty, truthful in-yer-face play, exuding all the qualities of the film but creating a more immersive experience. You walk into a rave at the beginning; there’s audience interaction, unashamed nudity, thick Scottish accents and a powerful script.

GavinRossMarkRentonShitsTheBed
Gavin Ross in ‘Trainspotting’ at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sourced from ‘Grumpy Gay Critic’.

I most definitely want to see this again and I would recommend anyone who is a fan of the film to check it out. Even if you’re not much of a theatre-goer, I reckon you would really enjoy this.

 

 

   9. Maria Ferguson: Fat Girls Don’t Dance – Bristol Old Vic.

18th April 2016.

I find spoken word so captivating so I had to fit it in somewhere. In Fat Girls Don’t Dance, Maria Ferguson tackles the theme of women’s bodies and her relationship with the two loves in her life: Food and Dance.

The idea of body image in today’s social media-mad society is something that I am very interested in and plan to write more about, so I hope this will help inspire me.

  10.  Goodnight Mister Tom – The Egg, Theatre Royal Bath.

26th– 30th April 2016.

Goodnight-Mister-Tom-runs-at-the-Duke-of-Yorks-Theatre-11-December-2015-20-February-2016.-700x455
‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ at The Egg Theatre, Bath. Sourced from TRB website.

This classic book (and film, actually) made me cry so much. It is personally one of my favourite stories written about the war – along with The Book Thief. I truly hope this production lives up to my expectations.

I haven’t been disappointed by a show at The Egg yet, so I hope this will be added to the list of successes!

 

If you’re interested in seeing any of the shows above, let me know! Theatre buddies are always welcome.

Merry Christmas everyone, and I wish you all the best for the new year!

 

Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) Kneehigh.

Kneehigh’s wacky modern musical, Dead Dog In a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) has returned to the Bristol Old Vic this year, and we’re delighted!

I went to watch it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was more than happy to go see it again. It’s a story of immorality, violence, power and money; I suppose in that sense you could liken it to Macbeth. In fact, it’s a re-vamped version of The Beggar’s Opera, a satirical musical by John Gay.

And a satirical musical ‘Dead Dog’ also proves to be; the play questions the human need for power through corruption, it challenges our political system and urges us to change our ways while putting the audience in stitches the whole time.

How the hell do they manage all that?

With a cracking cast, of course! There was a slightly different cast this year, but some of our favourites remained. What never fails to amaze me about this production is the actors’ musical abilities; if they’re not singing, they’re playing instruments in the background or playing kick-ass violin solos (Lucy Rivers: Widow Goodman). Ultimately, they are an amazing ensemble of performers.

But I do have a fond favourite; with her big presence, comic timing and

21249070810_0ee20d0eaf_b
Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum

hilarious one-liners, Mrs Peachum played by the wonderful Rina Fatania was back with a vengeance. Mrs Peachum is the Lady Macbeth we love to hate; she is the backbone to all the dodgy schemes as she plots to kill off Mayor Goodman so that her half-witted husband can take his place.

And of course we cannot forget the main compulsive villain and bad-boy, Macheath, played yet again by the talented Dominic Marsh. With his strong London accent, cockney swagger and charming demeanour, he exudes a Russell Brand appeal, which obviously impresses Polly, the Peachum’s innocent young daughter. Ah, the familiar bad-boy complex.

However, moving onto the new actors this year, the main newbie who stood out was most definitely Jack Shalloo who played Filch; his voice was to die for. In fact, I think they introduced a song especially for him this year, as I don’t recall Filch having a solo song before. Filch is a lovable character who provides the only source of hope in this otherwise bleak setting, and Shalloo does a great job in making him even more likeable with his beautiful, yet forlorn solo.

The Music.

Thanks to the composer Charles Hazlewood, it’s certainly a quirky mix of trip-hop and folk with the occasional rocky riff. The songs are very catchy, which is ideally what you want from a musical. My favourites, aside from Filch’s solo which I’ve already mentioned are as follows:

  1. Take Me Somewhere Far Away: Macheath and Polly Peachum.I would associate this song as being the most ‘musical-like’ with a beautiful melody (which I’ve had in my head all week!) and cracking harmonies. Angela Hardie who plays Polly has a lovely, pure, Maria-from-West-Side-Story-esque voice which contrasts nicely with the low raspy quality of Macheath’s.

 

  1. Ninja Butterfly: Lucy Lockit.A nice jazzy number which is later juxtaposed with a rocky-style reprise. We see the soft, vulnerable side of the pick-pocketing Lucy Lockit, then her jealous rage only shortly after; it’s brilliant. Although I must add, the actress who played her, Beverley Rudd had a very strong Northern accent, so I didn’t realise she was singing the word ‘butterfly’ for ages- doh.

 

  1. Money: Whole Ensemble.

Trip-hoppy, catchy beat. Enough said really.

 

  1. Mrs Peachum’s Cautionary Tales: Mrs Peachum.Possibly one of the funniest songs in the whole show. Mrs Peachum tries to tell Polly some home-truths in her sassy, no-nonsense way.

 

The Set/Props.

The set has a play-ground appeal to it, which leans toward the idea that corruption is simply a game; a way to get to the top. It’s put to great use as the actors swing from bars and enter scenes down the slide. Yet, it was made out of jagged and distressed-looking dark wood and the lighting was generally dim throughout. Thus, we are constantly reminded of the

12287088_10206459954030704_1951898480_o
The Set.

dark elements of murder and greed that run through the play.

Another interesting element was the Punch and Judy show; a running theme during the course of the production. Yet again, it harks back to the theme of playfulness, but is tainted with the abusive and violent aspects Punch and Judy are associated with.

 

Verdict?

If you like quirky, satirical musical theatre then I totally recommend that you go and see this. I feel that especially after recent events, the message of this play resonates. It questions the system that we are under now and implores us to wipe the slate clean and try again; undo all the wrongs that we have made.

Controversial- but that’s what theatre is all about.