A PACIFIST’S GUIDE TO THE WAR ON CANCER - MELBOURNE
A PACIFIST’S GUIDE TO THE WAR ON CANCER, Malthouse Theatre Melbourne, 7-18 March 2018. Photography by Mark Douet
Originally a co-production with the National Theatre in association with HOME Manchester, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer is Bryone Kimmings’ show is in collaboration with Complicité.
Complicité began in 1983 as a collective of collaborative curiosity, which has driven the work since. They are famous for making work through extensive periods of research and development which brings together performers, designers, writers, artists and specialists from diverse fields to create – a process now known simply as “devising”. Kimmings, a performance artist, is a Complicité Associate.
When applying for a grant for a new work Kimmings didn’t have a concrete idea on what she would or could be writing about. The meeting was not going well. She noticed the “bureaucrat” was avoiding her fussing minions, who all had colds. Kimmings asked if she had cancer, the response was “yes”. From that question and its answer came the germ of an idea. That was in 2015. Years of research later we get her show.
With input from many who were in the camp of “unwellness”, Kimmings takes us on the journey of trying to understand the processes of cancer and the possibility of writing a “how to book”.
High on a scaffolding platform, microphone in hand, she narrates the process of her research, the people she meets, the people that die. Kimmings has a knack of keeping things light even when the content is dark. She has surrounded herself with a band of women to help illustrate the narrative, interspersed with music and song.
She also has Lara Veitch who has battled the disease from childhood. Veitch tells us her story, her struggles, the lows, how some friends stay, some leave, and what a person going through treatment really needs from their friends. Veitch is not an actor and she hands over the first song written for her by Kimmings. Veitch does get to perform the last song though, and she handles it brilliantly. She has obviously morphed into being a performer.
The performers each have their “spotlight” song and they are the voices of some of the women who are telling their story. They are led musically by Eva Alexander, in a Spandex onesie, doing all the incidental music. The others – Gemma Storr, Lottie Vallis and Elexi Walker – strut their stuff and add to the music/sound. (I found the balance of the sound out of whack and had trouble with hearing some of the lyrics.)
The show had a moment of Theatre of Alienation when it moved from other people’s stories to that of Kimmings and her son who, at four months, was not being responsive. The writing of the show put on hold, she/we go through the trauma of her child having brain seizures. To emphasise the distress of Kimmings at the plight of her child, the audience is subject to ear piercing, shrill discordant sounds. Which I got, but not to the point where it became relentless, isolating and painful. Perhaps this was the point, but it was a point I had already understood.
Kimmings, continued her research after having a year off; picking up with Lara who had been going through her own devastating treatment. Both of them realising the “how to book” was probably not the best way to go.
When the show moved into “self-reflection” I had the “oh no” feeling. Not one for group therapy, I searched for the exit signs. Every show they invite a member of the audience to give their insights, experience. I tried not to audibly groan. Relived that the person they had chosen was articulate, truthful and funny and showed the “how to book” she had written, I relaxed slightly and joined in the appropriate applause indicating the end of the show.
Sadly no. Kimmings now sitting with her band of friends talks about not taking sadness back to the dressing room and that this was the time to name someone they were thinking of. It was then opened up to the audience. We were also invited to stay as long as necessary. There was crying and hugging as I scampered for the exit. After Melbourne, the show will be heading to Sydney.