Plays about cancer can go one of two ways: sad or ironic. Sad cancer plays focus on the devastating emotional effects of cancer and are generally tear-inducing. Ironic cancer plays include all of these elements but adopt a darkly comic view of death. Goodstock manages to fall effortlessly somewhere between the two: hilarious in places and beautifully raw in others.
Goodstock is like half-play, half-cancer lesson. By the end, we’re practically experts in the field (especially the BRAC1 gene, if we’re talking specifics). But Lost Watch is by no means patronising. I doubt anyone in the audience has ever before been taught about cancer on the back of a cello using a sharpie. If we didn’t know all this stuff before, we do now, and if we did, then now we’ve seen it drawn out for us on a cello with a sharpie. So everybody wins, really.
However, Goodstock doesn’t skirt around the fact that where there is cancer, there is death. And where there is death, there’s likely to be devastating effects. It’s the small touches that communicate this. It’s the way that Grandmother Hirst can’t bear to send her daughter’s clothes to the charity shop, or the haunting rendition of Abide With Me that leaves a good few of us teary-eyed.
But the best of these moments is Olivia’s heart wrenching monologue at the climax of the play. She has tears in her eyes as she delivers it and we know that it’s coming from a very real place. After all, Goodstock is based on her and her relatives. I’m not saying that we’d be cold and apathetic if the characters were fictional, but empathy is always slightly heightened when we know that we’re seeing the truth.
There’s something quite genius in the way that this play manages to create a seemingly light-hearted production that takes a giant emotional nosedive and pulls it off without seeming overtly forced. Goodstock is full of moments of genuine hilarity, but it doesn’t let you forget that cancer is a devastating illness, and death is never romantic.
Goodstock is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until August 31. For more information, visit the Fringe website.