It sounds like a potentially morbid outing -- watching extracts from a play about cancer. However, the performance from 'Cancer Tales' at the RSM last week provided an interesting and informative insight, not only into various aspects of illness, but also into the power of drama to convey concepts with intimacy and immediacy. On Friday night, we heard Clare's story of being diagnosed with uterine cancer (played by Laura Fitzpatrick, pictured), and Mary's story of coping with a teenage daughter who has leukaemia.
The script is based on transcripts of conversations of the playwright, Nell Dunn, had with patients. Much of the dialogue is delivered to the audience soliloquy style, but there are also scenes played out that show different aspects of communication, both positive and negative. The four actors pitched their performances perfectly in what was quite a difficult environment -- a raked lecture theatre with the house lights up.
After the performance, there was a panel discussion with Julian Walker (the director), Nell Dunn (the playwright), Jed Mercurio (former doctor and author of Bodies and Cardiac Arrest) and Anna Ford (newsreader, who has had several experiences of losing loved ones to cancer). The panel was very well balanced, with everyone having a valuable contribution to make to the discussion and in response to various questions from the audience.
Although primarily aimed at helping health care professionals to communicate better, 'Cancer Tales' has a lot to offer patients and relatives. It ought to have a wider audience, and I think it would make a series of brilliant radio plays.
There is a beautifully produced workbook to accompany the plays called Cancer Tales: Communicating in Cancer Care which integrates the script with research on topics like breaking bad news, pain relief and coping mechanisms.