Funny As Cancer is a stand-up/storytelling performance which charts Beth Vyse’s adventurous and eccentric life as an up-and-coming actor which takes a strange and unpleasant turn as she deals with breast cancer at the age of 28. Vyse demonstrates the absurdities of diagnosis and surgery, particularly focusing on the inability for families and loved ones to talk about cancer and illness, and the pressure it puts on romantic relationships. Vyse’s work shares commonalities with many stories about cancer – discussed by Jackie Stacey in Teratologies – which change irrevocably and quickly after a diagnosis: life was normal and exciting and funny and then…. Cancer.  Such a trajectory feels quite similar to films like 50/50 or Terms of Endearment, which is meant not as a criticism, but as, perhaps, a moment in which the biology of the illness affects the form of the story. For people with cancer, the word, the diagnosis changes ones perspective in a moment, pulls all focus, and can become quite overwhelming.

Vyse pulls audience members in as participants in her story, forcing people to enact sex, sperm banks, egg deposits, and more. While audience members might flinch at such participation, this mode of storytelling forces us to engage not as passive audience members, but as people who are part of the community which is sharing this story. Because cancer is as much defined by the biology as by the cultural stigma and misconceptions around it, asking us to participate in telling her story lets us think about how we would think about the situation, what we might say to our boyfriend/girlfriend or daughter, or mother etc. In this way, Vyse’s story asks us to shake off the notion that cancer is only experienced by a singular body at a time – it is all about relationships and how we can talk about these issues more, and better. (BL)

FUNNY AS CANCER, Beth Vyse, Heroes @ The Hive, 7-30 August. This venue is not currently accessible for wheelchairs, but may have an accessible option. Please contact the venue.

More about Beth Vyse:

Jackie Stacey’s Teratologies

Stupid Cancer and Fertility

Everything Changes, Kairol Rosenthal