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We Should Definitely Have More Dancing

Clara Darcy & Ian Kershaw
Oldham Coliseum
Oldham Coliseum

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Clara Darcy Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Clara Darcy and Shamia Shalabi Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Clara Darcy and Suzanna Hamilton Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Suzanna Hamilton, Clara Darcy and Shamia Chalabi Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Shamia Chalabi Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Suzanna Hamilton Credit: Joel Chester Fildes

This true story—about, co-written by and starring local actor Clara Darcy—will be Oldham Coliseum's first ever production to visit the Edinburgh Fringe later this year. With little set and mostly small props, this interval-less 80-minute show is a good fit for that festival.

The play tells the story of Darcy's diagnosis and treatment of a fist-sized tumour in her head—actually, it's the story of Darcy creating a play about her diagnosis and treatment with local TV and stage writer Ian Kershaw (the word 'meta' is mentioned, obviously), starting with an audio recording of them discussing it together. Darcy plays herself, but her co-performers Shamia Shalabi—who has also recently appeared in a self-penned story based on her own life, Habibti Driver, at the Octagon—and stage and screen star Suzanna Hamilton, also play her, as well as everyone else in the story.

Darcy took her first ever day off from rehearsals to attend a funeral, but she had been having headaches for a few months and was starting to be sick and had blurred vision, so her mother took her to A&E, resulting in the shocking diagnosis. She takes us through that process and treatment, slowly realising just how much this will change her life. She also realises, after living as though there will always be a tomorrow with no thought of 'settling down', she would really like a relationship, and children—but would this be a responsible thing to do when, even if her surgery was successful, there was—and still is—a 50% chance that the tumour would grow back.

This is played out on a bare stage filled with props to cue memories from her life and surrounded by hospital-style curtains on a low rail (design of set, costume and lighting is credited jointly to Joshua Gadsby and Naomi Kuyck-Cohen). Most of the story is told directly to the audience, with some banter and sending up of the style of the production between the three actors and some flashback scenes played out as a combination of dialogue and narration.

The flashbacks to her childhood or to her out enjoying herself as a young woman feel a bit contrived but do emphasise how much of a shock the sudden realisation of her own mortality was to her. Sometimes the actors speak through the microphones on either side of the stage, a technique often used by RashDash. Direction is credited to yet another pairing of Tatty Hennessy and Raz Shaw.

We know there is no tragic ending as the real-life protagonist is stood in front of us telling her story, so the final build-up is of Darcy's fellow actors trying to get her to stop simply reciting events and say how she feels—this goes on a bit too long and doesn't result in any big revelations that weren't obvious from what had gone before—followed by a tribute to the NHS and some positive messages about making the most out of life as we're not here forever.

Shows about the performer's own traumatic experiences are not uncommon at the moment—I'm sure I've seen a few in this year's Edinburgh Fringe press releases—nor are first-person accounts of life-threatening illness—the Royal Exchange's Glee & Me last year didn't end as happily as this one. The workshop style of performance is also pretty common, and the play doesn't offer any particularly profound insights into life and death.

However, it is performed very well with energy and absolute commitment by the trio and with good humour throughout, her reactions to what happens to her being more shock than tears, never falling into mawkishness or tearjerking tricks. It would be hard not to feel something for Clara by the end of it, but this is closer to kinship than remote sympathy. And it must be said that it is a very brave act to not only put this traumatic and personal story, which is continuing for her, out into the public domain but to relive it night after night. But then perhaps it's in the nature of an actor to deal with such things in this way.

Reviewer: David Chadderton