To know or not to know is the question that happens well before Goodstock begins: Olivia Hirst does know, and she knows that she tested positive for BRCA1, the gene which predisposes a person to breast and ovarian cancer. Lost Watch’s play, set to a live soundtrack, mines the ethics of genetic testing, and particularly the financial, emotional, sexual and (of course) surgical implications for young women. While such surgical and physical effects have been increasingly understood (in part due to people like Angelina Jolie and her highly-publicised double mastectomy) questions of guilt (and anger and ambivalence) linked to hereditary conditions is freshly considered.  

Probably the most significant contribution of Goodstock’s writing is the introduction of the term “Cancer Avoider” to the lexicon of cancer understanding. While so so so much energy is foisted upon those who survive, and so so so many memorials are laid out for those who die due to the disease, there is little space in current cancer discourse for those who don’t fit neatly into these two categories. As Hirst so rightly points out, after her mastectomy she will have the battle scars from cancer, but no battle. This is not at all a personal failing on Hirst’s and more of a failing of the current cancer world to think beyond survival/death and to think beyond simple, fundraise/marketing friendly language. As previous diagnoses will mention, the biggest problem here is that cancer is still far disconnected from disability discourses, which would positively add a dimension of understanding health/well-being and bodies as inherently growing, shifting, working, not working, etc, over time. As S. Lachlann Jain writes about in “Living in Prognosis” the entirety of the world and its understanding of time, pressure, and embodiment changes with a cancer diagnosis, and Hirst’s writing adds a new dimension to this body of social research. 

The work also usefully throws up the different generational struggles to understand science. While Hirst’s grandmother feels guilty about the passing on of the BRCA1 gene, how could she have ever known? And would knowing that she carries the BRCA1 gene prevent Hirst from having a child if she so desires? This intergenerational cast deals thoughtfully with these questions, reminiscent of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which looks at sexuality and how it is understood generationally – when these different generations necessarily speak to each other about these questions, there may be both unique fights and unique moments of understanding and reflection.

GOOD STOCK, Lost Watch, Pleasance Dome Attic, 7-31 August. This venue is not wheelchair accessible.

More on Lost Watch:

Jonny Pelham (below) who also discusses surgery and necessity, but in different ways:

Breast Cancer Action:

Angelina Jolie and BRCA1:

S. Lachlann Jain and Living in Prognosis:

On generational understandings in Fun Home: