We know that Toby Peach will live to the end of his cancer story, of course, because he is the performer, but the journey through his experience with illness remains harrowing. Peach’s solo performance walks the audience through one man’s growth into understanding his own mortality, with reflections on time, appreciation, and meaningful relationships. The work looks at cancer as a strange sort of illness – theoretically speaking – as it grows undetected for a long time (as reflected on by Jackie Stacey in her work Teratologies) and as it is the part of ourselves which is most successfully fights mortality (which is written about in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies) – and it is particularly strange for young people, who have never had their life, and the privilege of a long comfortable life, challenged.
Peach’s career as a model – particularly when he was photographed with cancer – interestingly, and unintentionally, echoes the work of both Susan Sontag’s in Cancer and Its Metaphors (which charts how standards of beauty were influenced by plagues) and Matuschka’s groundbreaking mastectomy photo Beauty Out Of Damage from 1993, still one of the most striking and bold images depicting illness. Peach engages with a kind of youthful male humour which is reminiscent of 50/50 (and Seth Rogen's incessant jokes which can be misogynistic and endearing) and a number of recent TCT campaigns. Even as we live in the shadow of Stephen Sutton and a huge increase in awareness of young people’s cancers, we are still in need of more stories – about cancer, about HIV, about invisible illnesses – in hopes of creating a community of bold storytellers creating work about their body and ours.
THE EULOGY OF TOBY PEACH, Toby Peach, 7-30 August (Various dates), Underbelly Cowgate. No wheelchair access to theatre.
Jackie Stacey, Teratologies
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies
Susan Sontag - Cancer & Its Metaphors
Matuschka - Beauty Out of Damage