Cancer Time

Gary Owen
Theatre 503 Latchmere Pub
(2004)

Cancer Time was originally written in Welsh and the playwright has only recently translated it into English for its transfer to Theatre 503, formerly the Latchmere.

It is a two-hander about Iola (Tonya Smith) and Karen Paullada's Marad, two young female operatives in a Gas Company call centre.

Their lives may seem mundane but throughout the play's eighty minutes, they have the ability to surprise. This is substantially due to Owen's elusive style where a non sequitur will almost always follow any straight question.

The consequence is that the viewer has to do some thinking, in order to piece together the meaning of the play. This is no bad thing and by the end, the effort is well-rewarded.

Most of the dialogue takes place in fag breaks, "Cancer Time" in Iola's parlance, when the two initially prickly girls have time to deconstruct their lives, as they do the office in which they work, plank by plank.

Their observations on life are quirky but often perceptive and their intelligence suggests that Gary Owen's authorial voice sometimes intrudes a little too much for speeches that supposedly emanate from a couple of young telesales workers.

This is especially the case when he puts forward his views on the Welsh language of which he is a great proponent.

The pair are chalk and cheese but what they have in common is that they are loners. Iola is definitely odd, while Marad dreams in an effort to suppress the pain of the loss of her brother. Eventually, each is a crutch for the other and the play begins to make sense even if some of the detail remains deliberately blurred.

Director Alex Clifton receives great support from both actresses and, in particular, Karen Paullada portrays Marad's mental disintegration painfully well. He choreographs the action carefully and is assisted in conveying the drudgery of call centre life by both Paul Burgess' design and Phil Hewitt's soundscape.

This play in which dreams bleed into life and vice versa has a kind of hypnotic attraction and well deserves a good run and subsequent transfer.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher