Written and directed by Paul Jenden
Music by Gareth Farr
Staring Jackie Clarke, Danny Mulheron, Jane Waddell, Louis Solino
We’ve either had it ourselves or know someone who has; Cancer, it would seem, is as part of our lives as Weetbix or karaoke. Yet it is curious that many of us (myself included) have such little comprehension of what it actually means, despite the fact that the phrase “did you hear that so-and-so has cancer?” is used nearly every day.
C – A Musical does a fantastic job of opening us up to “Cancerland” through the eyes of writer and director, Paul Jenden, who has cleverly and touchingly brought his own battle with leukemia to the stage.
One of the opening lines accurately sums up the flavour of the show – “Let’s deal with it. A musical about Cancer.” The heavy topic is presented in an equally moving and humorous manner, making for a highly entertaining, emotional, and surprisingly educational evening.
Danny Mulheron plays Paul Jenden with natural fluidity and casual comic timing. He is relaxed and conversational about his delivery of the very wordy dialogue; it almost seemed as if this piece was about him personally.
The musical aspect of the show is mostly presented by “The Voice Inside Jenden’s Head”, brought to life by renown Kiwi entertainer and New Zealand Idol judge, Jackie Clarke. Her beautifully versatile voice flicks effortlessly between her powerful chest-voice and light, mesmerizing head-voice, both of which are highly competent and make up for a few minor moments of over-acting.
Jenden’s mother, played by Jane Waddell speaks predominantly through poem. Essentially onstage the entire time, she often sits back in silence and considers the unfolding scene as if in a dream. The lack of emotional variance unfortunately made me less sympathetic towards her as a character, though whether this was Waddell’s interpretation or the script itself I’m not so sure.
Louis Solino personified “Carcinoma, the Cancer”, drifting in and out of scenes like a ghost, dressed as a sort of Venetian clown with porcelain white face, powdered wig, and checkered garments. Representing mortality (or the fear of it), he is a chilling character, though his ceaseless dances around the stage do become a little monotonous after a time.
Though its title and publicity images suggests a glitzy musical full of jazz hands and top hats, the show is less traditional in the sense of the word and more of a “play with songs and poems”. Composer Gareth Farr has created a score that is appropriately eclectic in style and mood. From beautifully haunting melodies to rhythmically upbeat tangos, the music and underscoring reflects the “topsy-turvy” world akin to that of Alice in Wonderland, which is frequently referenced throughout the show. While the melodies aren’t overly memorable and from sometimes become a little samey, the score is beautifully unusual and cleverly incorporates dialogue and word poetry.
The transitions between song and dialogue are seamless, lending itself perfectly to the constant back and forth between the grim reality of cancer and the wonderland of chemo-induced fever dreams and exploration for inner peace.
A special mention needs to be made of accompanist, Sue Alexander, whose performance on the piano is flawless.
The stage and lighting design creates a strong sense of isolation, the main focal point being a lonely hospital bed sitting centre-stage. A spotlight of black and white checkered floor tiles fade into the surrounding darkness, a scene frozen in space and time.
That same sensation of limbo can be said about the show as a whole. There is no plotline per se – the main plot points being the various stages through his diagnosis and treatment. The narrative is more of an insight into his thoughts and dreams during this period.
While I tend to find autobiographical works somewhat self-satisfying, I was willing to put those feelings aside, probably due to the fact it was insightful and relatable, at times even eliciting mumbles of agreement from the audience.
C – A Musical runs at Circa Theatre until the 3rd of August.
Tickets can be booked here.