Saturday, 6 October 2018

REVIEW: ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Of New York City’ at the Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre is a dainty little theatre off West Brompton known for producing high quality Fringe productions, and ‘A Funny Thing..’ is no exception. Halley Feifer’s follow up after her 2017 sell out ‘I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard’ looks set to be another, having been a success Off-Broadway in 2016. I personally can think of nothing worse than watching my mother on a deathbed, and this play delves into that nightmare scenario.

The basic premise is that Karla, a foul-mouthed twenty-something comedian, and Don, a middle-aged man embroiled in a nasty divorce, are brought together unexpectedly when their cancer-stricken mothers become roommates in the hospital.

A typical struggle with any play is how do you start it and make it memorable, especially with a memorably unmemorable name like ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan Lettering Cancer Center Of New York City’, and author Halley Feiffer knows exactly how to do that. Karla’s (played by the sensational Cariad Lloyd) opening line certainly makes the most memorable opening and sets the tone with ‘I’ve been single for so long I have wet dreams about my vibrator’. However anyone thinking this show is pure crudity and vibrator jokes are wrong. This play covers a multitude of realistic and heartbreaking emotions and taboos, from feminism, to what is socially acceptable to make jokes about, to dealing with grief, and to broken relationships. Each element is thoughtfully written about, acted with true raw emotion and skilfully layered due to brilliant oversight from director Bethany Pitts. My only major criticism is that the play felt about 10 minutes too long, and a couple of times the dialogue didn’t sustain enough, but this doesn’t stop a fantastic show.

Cariad Lloyd as ‘Karla’ leads the show with exquisite delicacy. She is perfectly awkward and confident at the same time, bringing truthful emotion to Karla and creating this likeable character we can cling to. She is perfectly complemented by Rob Crouch as ‘Don’, who’s use of facial expressions are priceless especially at the beginning, whilst being real delicacy later on in the play. The two of them work perfectly off each other creating a strong basis for the play.

However for me Kristin Millard as ‘Marcie’ stole the show, getting undoubtably the best lines of the play such as ‘don’t argue with me. I have cancer’. However it’s her comic timing that makes her truly stand out - not overplaying at all and also bringing real truth and vulnerability to her as well. Cara Chase as Geena has a fantastic stand out moment amongst a very difficult part of staying very much alert whilst asleep for so long in the play.

Doug Mackie’s lighting design was a real triumph, adding subtle layers to the
play whilst keeping it simple, and perfectly complementing Isabella Van Braeckel’s authentic costumes and intricate set. For me this was 99% perfect, with a piece of paper stuck to the computer screen for the heart rate monitor being the only thing pulling attention for me (in my OCD way). However the imagery with the two beds is inspiring. Jon McLeod’s sound design was strong and complemented the show well, although I wasn’t too sure about the preset design.

Overall this is a beautiful and very relevant play that breaks your heart as you laugh, subtlety dealing with very difficult issues. To sum up this play, as described by Don beautifully near the end, it is ‘Incredibly surreal, incredibly sad, but incredibly funny’. Definitely one to catch!

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: n/a | Price of Ticket: £18

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