Cancer is the illness that just will not go away and when you or someone you love is diagnosed with a form of the cancerous cells in their body it becomes even more personal and the fight for the cure is increasingly desperate. The National Theatre’s production of Bryony Kimmings, Brian Lobel, Tom Parkison and ‘Complicite’s musical, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ was actually an enjoyable musical effort unlike the Arcola Theatre’s horrendous musical, ‘Happy Ending’, moreover, the enactments were rather divine over the entire show.
‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ is set in a conventional NHS hospital where we are made known of mother, Emma who clenches her baby son in which she has brought him in for tests as there is a possibility that he may have some form of cancer. The writer, who is in fact a performance artist, explains that no one would visit a theatre with such an upsetting scenario so her purpose is to portray a scenario into a more uplifting manner. Over the course of the performance, as one of the nurses takes Emma’s son to be comprehensively tested, Emma meets those who have been affected by cancer, specifically a terminally ill Laura (Golda Rosheuvel), young man Stephen (Gary Wood) and Gia. Furthermore, it is clear that from this journey of Emma who is still awaiting the results to see whether her baby son has cancer, we are given an interesting opportunity and lesson into some of the biology but through glittery clad cancer cells, on the other hand, despite the funny aspects of this, there are the harsh realities that instils what cancer is. We also understand that cancer affects family members and this is shown through Stephen’s overly protective Mum (Amy Booth-Steel) and this is exactly what it is like in real life. Throughout the performance, we learn that cancer can be inherited and this is conveyed through the young girl, Shannon (Rose Shallos) who in actual fact massively courageous and displays a more philosophical approach to a cancer diagnosis. Additionally, we do get to see the pressure that nurses and doctors go through on a daily basis and these in this plot include Dr Lacey (Jenny Fitzpatirck), Dr Jones (Lottie Vallis), Jackie (Francesca Mills) and Ben (Max Runham). The room is engulfed with some blobby figure in order to bring Emma even more into an anxious state and at this explicit moment Emma only wants to know if her son is okay and is growing even more frustrated. Emma comes into contact with chain smoker, Mark who because of the fact that he has somewhat aided in the progress of his cancer to become worse that he has become estranged from his daughter and he explains this to Emma so eloquently and desires for a reunion. At the finale, Emma is given the tragic news that her little boy has cancer and Emma’s world comes crashing down all around her and it appears that after each performance, a cancer survivor is brought onto the stage and says their own story of their personal battle with cancer and we are allowed to stand up and say one person that we know who has passed away due to cancer. Kimmings’ narrative accompanied by Lobel and Parkinson’s music and lyrics were reasonably accomplished and on the cusp a little bit amusing as the topic of cancer states that we should all try to remain positive despite the fact that this is a life-threatening illness and this is displayed through sympathetic musical numbers.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ were superb and impressive through beguiling vocals and dance sequences that somewhat reminded me of the National’s musical, ‘wonder.land’ which is the style that Norris has envisioned for the musical works that are staged there. Amanda Hadingue is smashing as central protagonist, Emma; essentially how throughout the entire show we see that she that the nervousness of her son’s diagnosis is just what any mother would be like no matter what age they are and it was interesting to see her interact with people who are dealing with the cancer in their bodies allows her to learn about cancer. Hal Fowler is striking as chain smoker cancer victim, Mark; primarily how over the course of the show itself, we at first have a misconception about him as he is not exactly well dressed but this opinion is soon changed as we get to see that his relationships has been shattered due to the fact that he consistently smokes that this is why he has a fractured father-daughter relationship. Naana Agyei-Ampadu is exceptional as another cancer sufferer, Gia; generally what most impresses me about her performance is her actual vocals in a lot of the musical numbers that she is in is so excellent and shows how large her vocal range actually is and the story of her cancer is rather moving too and fully engages Emma as it is also about people learning from others who have cancer cells.
Bryony Kimmings’ direction is rather imposing here as she has been able to work with her own narrative and present a heart-warming take on cancer which in writing would be a look of pure shock, nonetheless, the tale of a mother who receives such devastating news shows how cancer is around everywhere and it is a virus no matter if you have it or not, plus Lizzi Gee’s choreography was exceedingly good too. Lucy Osborne’s set design and Christina Cunningham’s costume design was particularly triumphant as I was transported to the NHS hospital and it really worked well on the Dorfman stage and the costume designs especially the glitter cancer cell costumes showed a sort of educational element to the show design. Overall, the experience of, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ to be rather grand but for me the subject has been undertaken with such a sympathetic viewpoint which adds to the impressive nature.