Have you ever found yourself lying awake at night and worried about cancer? If you have, Lana Schwarcz is a must see!
Lana Schwarcz - the red haired comedian from across the ditch - got cancer. Breast cancer for that matter. And she is here to tell the tale in her most recent one woman show, 'Lovely Lady Lump' on now at the Gryphon Theatre for the 2016 Fringe Festival.
Busting myths and busting her bust, puppeteer and actress extraordinaire, Schwarcz takes the power away from the dreaded ‘C’ word and removes the taboo around the tits. Uproariously funny, devastating and heartfelt, Lana Schawarcz doesn’t want her audience to have a good beside manner – she wants us to behave as badly as she does, and remove the fear of our cancer anxieties while doing so. Schawarcz does us all a favour and gives it to us straight. Using overhead voices, puppetry, very clever projected graphics, dance, dream segments and the occasional un-striptease, Lana’s creative and honest telling of her story is one that everyone should see, whether effected personally by cancer or not.
"It will leave you laughing to tears and crying tears"
From the minute we first encounter Schwarcz onstage, it's all on show – literally. Lana gets the girls out from the word go and expresses no remorse in doing so. "Spoiler alert: I survived" Lana cackles, deliberately breaking the fourth wall with her audience. "Usually it’s a climax but not tonight" she admits. This act sets the tone for the night where sometimes you find yourself laughing where you least expect. We know Schwarcz is going to take us on - dare I say it - a journey, into her experience with cancer. Just, as she says, never use the expression "Journey" to a cancer patient to describe the "Journey" of cancer “because it sounds like you are going somewhere – I was going somewhere – I was on the journey of my life. A more accurate description would be a hostage taking or terrorist attack.”
Schwarcz gives us a play where there are no-holds-barred. After all, this is a story about what people usually never talk about, let alone on stage: the private relationship with their bodies that can sometimes, through “bad luck”, go wrong even through it is not 'bad' luck as Lana points out because one in eight of us will get breast cancer.
"Uproariously funny, devastating and heartfelt, Lana Schawarcz doesn’t want her audience to have a good beside manner – she wants us to behave as badly as she does"
As we see her impersonate the people she meets along the way and explain the hum-drum challenges she encounters (such as having her cancer diagnosed one week into her home renovations) we are shown the less discussed downside of the illness. Part of the hardship of cancer is the practical elements – the everyday struggle. Schwarcz wants us to know that it can be brutal. Running out of money, the faces people make, your builder who is more upset about his breakup. The experience waiting in particular is painful. Schwarcz describes her experience waiting for test results that were supposed to arrive in 24 hours, which ended up taking 4 days. We cringe outwardly as we experience the agony of it with Schwarcz.
The other mundane difficulty, besides people and the platitudes they speak to try and provide comfort, is (from Schwarcz experience) the repetition of Radiation treatment. In one of the cleverest motifs of the play, Schwarz stands with her hands above her head and has her left breast ‘radiated’ through the projections on the screen. I cannot speak as to whether this is factually accurate or not. What matters is the vulnerability we feel for Schwarcz, and the pain in hearing her crack bad jokes again and again to the oncologist, trying to stay sane and funny.
"It is the uncertainty of cancer that Schwarcz points out, is the real killer"
Schwarcz tackles a difficult topic head on and succeeds. While the latter stages of the play lag a little, it feels appropriate. This is not a quick and overly polished production, but neither should it be. The messiness, the slowed drag, never ending sentence, the endless therapy, the promise of a near certain end should the cancer not be treated – these are all real. And this play is, more than anything else, about being real. It walks that thin line between being funny, cheeky and deeply tragic. Nothing is certain, least of all Schwarz. And it is the uncertainty of cancer that Schwarcz points out, is the real killer.
Go and see Lovely Lady Lumps – it will leave you laughing to tears and crying tears. It will remind you that we all have the ability to take the power back from our fears if we just laugh at them or at least with them.