Vaults Festival, London (***)
It’s no joke having cancer yet Toby Peach has managed to make a sharp, funny solo show out of contracting Hodgkin’s Lymphona at the tender age of just 20.
Don’t be fooled by the title. Toby Peach is still very much with us. Let us hope for many years to come. But the word cancer still also holds terrible fear. Justifiably so. It’s random, unpredictable and the treatment often worse than the disease itself. The fear of recurrence, too, sits like the elephant in the room, unspoken but forever present.
For Peach, that fear became real. Having been in remission for Hodgkin’s, it returned. And the second time in much nastier fashion.
Yet having clearly suffered and sensed his own mortality, Toby Peach has survived. `Somehow I’m still here’, he exclaims with surprise in the hot and clammy and distinctly unhealthy confines under Waterloo station which houses the Vault Festival.
It’s not an easy trip, for all the bravura Peach brings to bear in welcoming us – with an ironical tip to Cabaret – with his own Kit-Kat Cancer Club.
Peach uses intimacy as a weapon to involve and ram home the message that it could happen to anyone – `you, and you, and you’ – shockingly 1 in 2 – inviting us to share in the poisonous cocktails that will knock out the cancer but also his immune system. To which end, he solemnly sets about preserving some sperm before treatment – just in case – with the aid of porn magazines. Later it will be frozen.
Peach’s show is packed full of stats: days not spent in school detention, hours spent kissing (his girl-friend turns out to be a tower of strength), cancer-free days in remission and Day 8332 when new lumps are discovered. As life darkens, Peach composes his own eulogy, his funeral playlist sung to his new-found `love’, Ivy, his hideously yellow drip feed and stand.
But thankfully, Peach recovers and with great emotion, his final fling is to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of cancer research whose work over a century and more has helped to save so many lives.
Moving and taboo-breaking. A brave, brave show.
Review first published in Reviewsgate, Feb 2016