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A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer

Home > Sydney > Comedy | Health and Fitness | Theatre
by Erica Enriquez (subscribe)
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Even war can be human
About 30 minutes into the performance A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, co-writer and performer Bryony Kimmings describes a big, bold, shiny prop of the word "cancer" being maneuvered forward from the back of the stage, up towards the very best, front seats, up over the middle sections' seats and then, with great force and with probably some amazing pulley systems and riggings, resting above the audiences' heads, where it hovers over us, still shiny and bright, for an indeterminate amount of time.

That's sort of one of the many themes that come from A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, a new production currently showing at the Seymour Centre until 29th March 2018.

The show was developed over a period of 4 years when British performance artist Bryony Kimmings wanted to explore what it was like to not only live with cancer, but also, how people talk about cancer.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, Weekend Notes, Seymour Centre
Photography by Mark Douet

She interviewed and got to know people with cancer, and they spoke about what was hard for them, not just in terms of physical ailments and mortality, but also how the people around them treated them, and how the world at large treated them. The show opens your eyes to the language used around cancer, and how it seems to never really fully encompass the complexities of it all.

As heavy as these themes are, Kimmings, with co-writers Brian Lobel and Kirsty Housley, managed to inject humour into the show, allowing the people on stage, as well as the audience moments of relief where we are allowed to laugh through, and be open with, our fears and our discomfort.

It's safe to say that A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer was designed to be a candid take on the "C" word (the other c word, not the rude one). Created with the assistance of Britain's Complicite Associates, it was always going to be far from a simplistic view on what it's like from both sides.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, Weekend Notes, Seymour Centre
Photography by Mark Douet

Through songs and scenes (yes, songs, rollicking good ones, too, where the cast are dressed in glitter outfits Ziggy Stardust would approve of), we are treated to a host of ideas around what it's like to have cancer hanging over you. Being told you are "brave" (and how so much of cancer treatment is expressed as though it was a fight against it, the battle, the war etc.), and not having the language to express that you are scared. Being patronised by people you know giving you the "cancer face" (a demeaning form of "support"). Being tired and weak from treatment, wanting to just get some peace but not at the expense of losing touch with those around you. These issues were explored with sensitivity and frank honesty.

During the making of this show, Kimmings also met befriended fellow performer Lara Veitch, who has a rare form of Li Fraumeni Syndrome (which means she is genetically predisposed to cancer), and her scenes, where she discusses her experiences with cancer, were very illuminating.

Everything from Kimmings' forthright writing, to Housley's direction, to Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis, Lara Veitch and Elizabeth Esguerra's performances, to Lucy Osborne's set and costume designs and especially to Lewis Gibson's sound design worked well together, bringing the audience from the height of laughter to the depths of despair.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, Weekend Notes, Seymour Centre
Photography by Mark Douet

What made A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer so unique, aside from its humanising interpretation of the subject matter, was also the way it took the media of theatre and really opened it up for the audience to be a part of. This ain't like Netflix, we're told towards the end of the performance. In other words, we weren't expected to just be given anything, we were allowed to interact and make this as much an experience for us as it was for the cast and crew.

Bryony Kimmings explains to us that theatre is like church for her, a place where you can commune with the people attending in a sacred and safe space. If there's a theatre performance where this kind of no-holds-barred, candid approach would work, it's A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer. This is a must-see for anyone dealing with cancer and mortality, in any capacity, seeking a place to feel understood.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, Weekend Notes, Seymour Centre
Photography by Mark Douet
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*Erica Enriquez was invited as a guest
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Why? A candid approach to cancer. On stage. With songs.
When: Until 29th March, 2018
Phone: 02 9351 7940
Where: The Seymour Centre, City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Cost: Prices start from $28 for student rates
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