The European debut of Halley Feiffer’s play A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Hospital Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is currently underway at the Finborough Theatre. The show is set in a single hospital room where two mothers are fighting for their lives on either side of a curtain. When their lost children meet, a story of parenthood, childhood and grief begins.
Starring stand-up comedian Cariad Lloyd as Karla and Rob Crouch as Don, the two get off to a bad start as their mothers, played by Cara Chase and Kristin Milward, lie unconscious next to each other. They seem like complete opposites; Karla is a feisty young comedian writing “bits” about her vibrator, while Don’s a depressed soon-to-be divorcee who can’t say the word “condom.” But it doesn’t matter; they’re united by their mothers’ illnesses. Don is grieving for his mother before she’s even dead while Karla seems much more comfortable around her mum when she’s unconscious. Further trouble is revealed as we learn that both of their personal lives are spiralling out of control and have been for some time.
For a comedy, there are a lot of moments where it doesn’t feel like one at all. The balance of darkness with related jokes seems a little off and watching the show becomes a difficult task. The overall feeling of the show is confused further when the tearjerker moments jerk no tears.
When Karla’s mum Marcie (Milward) wakes up, things begin to pick up and by the time Don’s mother (Chase) wakes up, things have descended into something stranger and funnier than before. One of Chase’s few lines seems to sum up the whole show when she wakes to say, “This is weird.”
The set is really convincing. Designed by Isabella Van Braeckel, the hospital curtains, the panel of plugs behind the beds and the excessively small water cups make the play’s setting entirely believable. The curtains are used cleverly during the transition between scenes, even though most of the transitions feel alarmingly long. Created by Jon McLeod, the sound and music is good too, which is important for reasons you don’t realise until the end of the show, by which point its long-winded title makes sense.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is a dark comedy with more downs than ups, but it’s an interesting watch with a dedicated cast.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is playing Finborough Theatre until 27 October 2018. For further information and tickets, click here.