Unravelling The Ribbon at the Swan Theatre, Yeovil

prompt Unravelling the RibbonCANCER is an immensely difficult subject for a play. It is inherently about the things that really matter – life and death – but for many (perhaps most) people, going to the theatre is about entertainment and having a good night out.

A play about cancer in which there are only three characters, who speak mainly straight to the audience, in monologues, not interacting with each other, is even more difficult.

Unravelling The Ribbon, by Mary Kelly and Maureen White, at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre until Saturday 24th May, is just such a difficult play and I can’t promise you an entertaining evening. I can promise you that it is deeply thought-provoking, sometimes blackly funny and often very moving. It may make you angry – there are sequences that made me really angry. It may make you cry. It almost certainly will make you cry. It made me cry.

Director Mark Payne recognises that most of us will have or have had experience of cancer affecting someone we care for, and that the subject matter of the play will bring back the fear and maybe the loss. But he believes it is actually a play full of hope. He believes that we have to be “unrelentingly positive that cancer can increasingly be beaten.”

The play is based on actual memories and personal stories, gathered by the writers. It revolves around the experiences of Rose, a youngish mother of two, who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer (a powerful and utterly convincing portrayal by Tanya Ogden), her 11 year old daughter Lyndsey (Jess Payne managing the almost superhuman job of making this selfish, irritating sub-teen into a person whom you come to understand and care for), and Lola, an older cancer survivor, still struggling with her own anger and her inability to talk to her beloved husband about the disease (Vivienne Evans, who draws us into her world and gives a necessary perspective to Rose’s story).

It’s about love, and learning how to express it; it’s about friendship, and how it may come in the most unexpected ways; it’s about communication, and how bad some of us are at it, most of all when it involves someone we love.

No, this is not an easy play. You must listen to every word; watch every shade of expression on Rose and Lola’s faces; try to see past Lyndsey’s pouting childishness to the person she will become; and decide for yourself whether you find hope here.

I am immensely glad I saw it, and congratulations to the three actresses who carry this unusual play with such unerring passion and commitment.


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