16 March 2018

Guest response: A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer

 A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer
Complicite and Malthouse Theatre

8 March 2018
Merlyn Theatre
to 18 March 2018

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer. Photo by Mark Douet

Guest writer: Andi Snelling

SM: I cried in Bryony Kimmings's  A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer; felt-tears-fall-onto-my-arm cry. It's a gut-kick emotional show that has led to having some amazing personal conversations about how we create art about illness and how we respond to work about illness.

Kimmings is from the UK and is well-known, and well-loved, by Melbourne audiences having brought us Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, Sex Idiot and Fake it 'til you make it.

It's possibly impossible not to have a personal connection to the ideas, frustration and raw emotion of the work. I started writing about my personal stories about cancer and it became very long. I'm not unique; the audience connection to the work is strong and immediate.

With a sequin-bedazzled cast, it begins as Kimmings's story about being commissioned to make art – a musical, naturally – about other peoples' illnesses. She finds a gendered mess of language, misinformation and naff fiction – that also makes me cry – and people who are so sick of being sick, and all the expectations that come along with being sick.

When Lara Veitch, who's not an actor, comes into the narratives and onto the stage, it becomes more personal and less hypothetical. And when Kimmings son gets sick, the distance between creator and topic no longer exists.

Here are Maxim's and Tim's reviews, but I want to share response by Andi Snelling. She wrote at 3.17 am.  Here's the link to her MyCause page.

AS: 3.17am has me playing that familiar Lyme game: WTF is that sensation and where is it coming from? Crawling, vibrating, squeezing sensations warming my heart area and machine gun rounds firing off in my right ear in a fireworks display of tinnitus which can be both heard and felt. My throat is dry and ticklish with the acidic taste of reflux because I broke my consume-nothing-after-8 pm rule because my granny o'clock dinner routine got interrupted by a 5 pm theatre show  A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer.

The show is pacing up my mind's corridor, tearing up the carpet and ceiling of my bedroom as the blur of my sickness-dreams comes into sudden sharp focus. The show was an ambitious rabbit hole dive which I loved on paper; a (rightly so) trendy, edgy, feminist artist facing cancer bravely from within whilst fuck you-ing patriarchal power as starkly as the white medical gown we will all wear one day. But it didn't work for me on a creative level somehow. And I wonder if that even matters because it did work for me on the level which it set out to be: a guide. Even when – especially when – it reveals there is no guide.

I was moved but didn't sob as I had expected to. This does not mean anything, other than I clearly had expectations which have little use in art. I felt my own thought struggles around my illness reflected – the pressure for positivity, the brave face bullshit, the cycling of mortality fears and total "normalcy", the "it's-easier-to-pretend-it's-okay" facade, the anger at isolation, the futility of reaching out to disappearing friends, the devastation when your relationship sledgehammers your heart in its hour of need. All of that. And more. I don't even have cancer, but I do have an illness as dangerous as cancer, yet without the voice that cancer has.

And so, the show hovers with me as 4 am approaches, just as art should. A helicopter churns the sky outside and at first, I have to double-check it's really there and not inside me because it can be with Lyme. My heart, like so many nights of late, pounds away, thudding parts of my body with its palpitations, giving me the fear of death and reminding me that I am alive. In the black of the night. Just like the black of the stage.

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