views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Getting it Off My Chest: How I Lost My Breast And Found Myself
Etcetera Theatre
19th August 2012


Breast cancer is not usually a well for laughs, unless you're a shock comic or simply incredibly insensitive. But when Janice Day was diagnosed in 1996, she went on a life-altering journey culminating in a memoir and this stage adaptation, which is a testament to Day's sense of fun and humour.

Don't let the fact that it is essentially a 60-minute monologue created from her book put you off. Day herself is a warm, amiable and engaging presence, albeit one with a streak of cheeky black humour. Touching on her childhood, it moves through the diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstruction to the present day - and the seven stone lighter woman. It never feels abridged or clumsy, rather flowing seamlessly to allow the audience to fill in any gaps and it's an incredibly uplifting and compelling story with Day a shining beacon to positive thinking deserving of an inordinate amount of respect.

The monologue is broken up with a bit of a sing-song, both by Day alone and a second with audience interaction. It's a nice way to undercut the tension and reality of the horrors of cancer. A storybook tale about Day considering alternative therapies and an overall lifestyle change is also well done, positioning her at once as mother and princess, knowledgeable but naive. It goes on a touch too long, but it's still a delightful diversion.

In fact, the whole piece is full of well-thought-out contradictions. I never expected the c-word to be presented in such a way that is very bright but also incredibly frank. Day describes her post-surgery body in a way that is unashamed, highly funny and a touch exasperated. Her decision on what to do about a new nipple retained a British stiff upper-lip and delicate turn of phrase, but was also more suited to coming out of the mouth of a rather bluer comic, instead of someone who feels like your cool aunt.

In fact, the only thing that may befuddle many audience members was her decision to forgo chemotherapy and instead focus on alternative therapy. She justifies her decision well and this is, after all, a personal story. It seemed to work for her, but it does make my logical, scientific mind spark and smoke slightly. Still, it's an issue that she is respectfully restrained with.

Insightful and inspirational aren't strong enough words for Day's journey and this show. She's a very deft writer and an acute stand-up and her show may go a long way to prove that laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Janice Day's one-woman show ran from 19th to 20th August 2012 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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