Isobel Mebus as Rachel South, and Vanessa Rhodes as Elaine Lee, both embodied well-developed over-thirty female characters, a gift of the script that we see rarely on Wellington stages. A commendable Directorial choice, by Director Jane Yonge, was having South and Lee sit each side of the stage, embodying the worry of caring so deeply for your patient or child. Both actresses did a wonderful job of maintaining this tension and concern throughout the show. Particularly beautiful was a scene between the two when Isobel Mebus wonderfully channelled the utter hurt of your child sharing via a public platform things that they would never say to you. This moment was my favourite of the play, embodying powerfully how much an illness affects those around it as well as those trying to beat it within their own bodies.
The set, designed by Nick Zwart, was beautifully constructed, versatile and austere, capturing very viscerally the feel of a hospital. The theatre even smelt like a hospital as we entered, which is a specific smell that triggers very specific memories in each of us. The lighting design, by Jeremy Larkin, also helped us to buy into the world of clinical hospital lighting, the sweetness of hospitals at sunset, and differentiate the spaces practically.
The script itself is well woven and beautiful, painting a very personal and non-judgmental view of how cancer patients and their support people are affected by illness and relate to each other. I felt emotionally invested in the characters and they read as very real and developed. The escalation of the story was effective and involving as well, although the climax of the plot didn’t quite reach the height by way of stakes that it could of, given how much we care about the characters. We could have used more of a moment to really be hit by the stakes of Marianne’s final decision, so that our wonderment at what really happens after the ellipsis is that much more invested.
Thematically, the script centres around discussion of whether it is important to prioritise quality of life or length of life, a theme that effects people across all illnesses, but is poignant in the realm of cancer treatment. The Q & A held after the opening night performance was informative and warm, with people offering their own recovery stories and respectfully questioning representatives of CanTeen who were present. What I drew from this discussion was the incredible amount of research and time and empathy that went into creating this work. This piece comes from a community and speaks back to a community, inviting us in and exploring the ethics of how we relate to cancer patients and how we think of cancer patients and survivors, especially young ones.
There was a lightness in the room, discussing alternate endings where Marianne buys an iPhone or is eaten by a shark, and we all chuckle along - as one audience member says, ‘Everyone has a story’ and there is a connectedness in the room in us all acknowledging this fact. This show takes some of those stories, and paints them in warm colours, inviting us to explore the canvas along side those who painted it themselves, and as such is an utter gift of empathy, as great theatre should be.
There is a special Gala night Wednesday 30th, of which all the proceeds will go to Canteen. On all other night $2 from each ticket also goes to Canteen.