A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit …
Reviewed – 4th October 2018
“opens up the walls of free speech to challenge our notions of offence”
“I’ve been single so long? I’ve started having sexual fantasies about my vibrator.” At odds with the sombre hospital ward setting, this opening line of the European premiere of Halley Feiffer’s script sets the tone for piece determined to find comedy in life’s darkest moments. Spunky and spirited Karla (Cariad Lloyd) is trying out some new “bits” for her mother (‘Marcie’, played by Kristin Milward), bedbound by her cancer treatment. On the other side of the curtain, unassuming forty-something Don (Rob Crouch) arrives to visit his mother (Cara Chase). What starts out as offence turns into friendship, and over the course of the play, the relationship between this mismatched couple deepens as the tragedy that underpins the reasons for their connection grows ever more present. Family is at the heart of this touching and witty play, and this production offers genuine laugh-out-loud moments – often at the expense of others – gently mixed with tender and nuanced moments of introspection and revelation.
What’s so glorious about the comedy on display is how fresh it seems. Shifting from the off into the murky realm between ‘funny’ and ‘offensive’, “A Funny Thing…” invites the audience to admit no topic is off-limits. Are only certain groups of people allowed to make certain jokes? Is, as Karla declares, there “anything funnier than rape”? This audience in particular seemed to enjoy gasping and laughing in unison, and, especially by giving this shocking and foul-mouthed voice to a female comedian character, opens up the walls of free speech to challenge our notions of offence (something Ricky Gervais has spent many years trying to do).
The performances on display are exceptional, showing an acute awareness of comic timing whilst still producing believable and relatable characters on stage. Cariad Lloyd flows with natural energy and it utterly compelling, whilst Rob Crouch, although seeming sometimes too heightened in comparison to Lloyd, embodies the everyman battered down by the pains and disappointments of his life. Chase and Milward, silent and asleep in bed for most of the play, hold a lot of presence, and their moments of speech come as a pleasant and hilarious surprise. Milward especially justifies everything that comes out of Marcie’s mouth making her perhaps the most memorable character in the show.
It is the nature of a script set in a hospital ward that much of the action takes place sat down in chairs, but Bethany Pitts’ direction still makes space for dynamic moments of motion that disrupt the normality of sitting, reading and waiting. Isabella Van Braeckel’s detailed costume design deserves a mention for its simple awareness of each character, allowing us to truly see these whose these people are at a glance.
With gasps and guffaws in equal measure, “A Funny Thing…” translates well into British culture, being moving, wince-inducing and really funny all in one go. Not one to be missed.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by James O Jenkins
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit
Finborough Theatre until 27th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: