A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer

Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
 (© Mark Douet)
1/6
© Mark DouetGareth Snook
 (© Mark Douet)
2/6
© Mark DouetAmanda Hadingue and Gary Wood
 (© Mark Douet)
3/6
© Mark DouetHal Fowler and the company
 (© Mark Douet)
4/6
© Mark DouetMax Runham and Naana Agyei-Ampadu
 (© Mark Douet)
5/6
© Mark DouetRose Shalloo and Amanda Hadingue
 (© Mark Douet)
6/6
© Mark DouetGolda Rosheuvel and the company

A new musical about cancer from performance artist Bryony Kimmings

INTERVIEW: 'It's not the first musical about cancer. But I think it might be the first good musical about cancer'.

This angry, funny, uneven and eventually devastating musical about cancer from Complicte and performance artist Bryony Kimmings (co-written with Brian Lobel and Tom Parkinson) has as moving a last 15 minutes as you can imagine. 

Before that, it's mixed. For its first half, ’A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ is a kind of Kafka-esque cabaret musical that follows lead character Emma’s indoctrination into a sort of existential hospital oncology department. Emma (Amanda Hadingue) is here because her infant son has been referred for tests, something she shoves to the back of her mind as he’s taken away by doctors and she meets the raging, absurd, frail, irritable denizens of the ward.

It’s pretty much a series of ‘turns’, with Emma looking on as each patient shares their story through song, from a lung cancer-riddled chain-smoker who breaks into a keening country ballad, to a tough, in-denial mum who launches into a sizzling disco number as she professes her will to fight to the end, long after it appears futile. 

The songs, though stylistically all over the shop, are strong, and there’s some particularly formidable lung power from Naana Agyei-Ampadu and Golda Rosheuvel. The problem is that it doesn’t all hang together: Emma should be the glue that binds the musical together, but instead she’s a detached observer who we barely learn a thing about. Kimmings’s numerous acclaimed solo shows are all intensely autobiographical; there is a her-shaped void at the heart of ‘A Pacifist’s Guide…’, which is never really redressed, even if it is partially filled by an actual voiceover from Kimmings, who eventually links Emma’s story to her own.

It’s only late on – ironically when the songs have mostly stopped – that 'A Pacifist's Guide…' really finds its feet, as Kimmings emerges as a personality, the cast start miming verbatim to the darkly comic recordings of the real-life cancer patients they were based upon, one of the patients comes up on stage to read a few words about herself, and the audience is invited to say the names of people they know who died of cancer. If it was glossier it might be mawkish, but it’s here that Kimmings and Lobel’s DIY roots show through – it feels like a healing, empowering art project that really has something to say, confronting the prosaic, oft-concealed reality of life with cancer head-on. 

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
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LiveReviews|4
1 person listening
Tastemaker

This show took a unique approach to dealing with the emotive topic of Cancer. In a heartfelt, moving and thoroughly entertaining show, the audience follows the journey of a young mother who is sent to the hospital for tests to be carried out on her young son. Her journey becomes increasingly dark and frantic echoing her fears and worries her son, all cunningly depicted through flawless dance, clever songs and intriguing costumes and sets.

The show is the work of Bryony Kimmings and is the latest in a run of critically acclaimed witty shows in which she usually takes the leading role. Yet here she takes a back seat until the end, and I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, but the show's climax extremely touching and well worth the wait.


This is one of the best things I've ever seen in the theatre.   It enabled us the audience to face the unthinkable and took us through a journey into the terror and wonder of being alive with the ever present possibility of dying. It is deeply serious, deeply entertaining, funny, delightful and terrifying.

Wonderful diverse and talented cast; each one so unique and intriguing, both as the characters they were playing and as themselves when they emerged from their roles at the end.  This play has an extraordinary closing section.  Deeply moving and very brave.  Every one should see this!

Tastemaker

One of the most moving and impactful pieces I have seen this year, especially when you realize that each of the performers has a connection to cancer. Also, what was tear-jerking at the end was how they invited audience members who had survived cancer to speak and sing. This really brought a tear to more than half the audiences' eyes. SPOILER ALERT - this musical is NOT your feel-good happy-go-lucky musical and would NOT be suitable for a casual date or for a family with young kids. This i a very real and very truthful account of life, death, disease, and everything else that comes with it. It is a difficult subject matter and it was tackled superbly by the talented cast. I can't recommend it more for anyone who wants to be aware of the truths and myths of cancer and how it affects those around the victim as well.

Tastemaker

A new musical about cancer. How contradictive does this sound to you? Expect songs about cancer, actors dressed like cancer cells dancing around the stage and the most unexpected moving ending you have experienced before. I wouldn’t like to spoil how this musical ends, but believe me it is quite clever, moving, immersive. This is for the last 20 minutes. But before that, I wouldn’t say that I was truly impressed by the whole performance. We follow Emma (Amanda Hadingue – really good on her role) in the oncology department to have her son tested for cancer. It is a play full of turns between happy and sad, angry and funny moments but it doesn’t manage to present a compound result. There are many unconnected scenes and songs that don’t produce any emotions. Despite that, the movement/choreography is impressive. The famous Complicite company that collaborates to this production have made an amazing work - actors move like professional dancers giving really good comic-style scenes