Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Cancer Tales

Trevor is putting together a film of Cancer Tales, the verbatim play he's been working on with writer Nell Dunn over the last few years. The piece has over it's long development been really well received by critics and audience, not just as a fascinating piece of theatre, but also as a brilliant health education tool regularly used at conferences and in training sessions to explore issues of empathy and disclosure.

I've got a small part playing a post office worker in remission which I filmed today in the medical centre playing opposite RSC stalwart Sonia Ritter. It's the first acting I've done for nearly ten years and although I'll probably only be on screen for two minutes tops I really enjoyed it.

It's interesting watching Trevor take verbatim and transfer it onto film. Although the form has had an explosion in theatres over the last decade there are very few precedents for capturing the work in this way. I guess one reason is that film is already a brilliant medium for documentary and so perhaps it feels unnecessary to put testimony through the conduit of an actor. Apart from The Laramie Project which I think is a really successful fusion of interview and cinematic action there is little to go on.

Trevor has been watching Alan Bennett's Talking Heads work for inspiration and much of the text is delivered straight to camera, which, as with Bennett's work, disarms the viewer and brings a wonderful intimacy exactly right for the vulnerability of the stories offered.

When Nell first started work on the play she was clear that although nearly everybody has been affected by cancer, if not by direct experience then through a family member or a friend, it remains a taboo subject. Many cancer patients as well as being naturally being scared, are ashamed or embarrassed and very few of us know what to say in the face of the disease. The play, and hopefully the film, offers a realistic hope that sharing our stories might offer some dignity and respect to sufferers and carers alike and give the great gift of tenderly letting us know we are never alone.

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