Genesis is a play about the issue of breast cancer – an issue play. Rachel (Helen Bradbury) works at a lab that uses gene mutations to predict breast cancer risk. But when she is labeled high-risk herself, her reaction endangers her relationships with her friends and family.

That breast cancer is at the centre of this production isn’t a problem, but it is troubling that we never get more than a couple of steps away from breast cancer.

The argument rotates around these preventative measures. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Genesis was created in partnership with the charity Prevent Breast Cancer. What is surprising is the subtlety of the argument. While Rachel jumps at the opportunity to protect herself, going as far as planning surgery on her breasts and ovaries to stop a disease she hasn’t contracted yet, her daughter reacts differently, and the decision not to resolve this conflict is one of playwright Frazer Flintham’s best choices.

This argument is furthered by the thoughtful technical elements. The set slowly decomposes as floor panels turn into tables and chairs, while metallic construction mimic DNA. And scene transitions include voice recordings of people predicting their future or remembering their past adds an awareness of time and life better than the dialogue does.

That breast cancer is at the centre of this production isn’t a problem, but it is troubling that we never get more than a couple of steps away from breast cancer. Rachel’s daughter, Jade (Joanna Nicks) has her own things going on: she’s applying to Oxford, and has a boyfriend (though we have to take her word for it, and he’s never seen). However, we only get to learn about her when she manages to interrupt her mother’s tirades on preventative medicine. Similarly, Rachel has a personal life, but it’s understood through her willingness to sacrifice it to reduce the breast cancer risk in herself and others. The characters’ lives are secondary to the disease, and secondary to the argument that Flintham is putting forward.

Bradbury manages to inject some emotional impact into the show. Her ranging performance, which hits all the stages between doctor-delivering-bad-news calm and mother-with-a-rebellious-teen wild, is comparable to a tall Helen Mirren. But Nicks, and the third part of the three-hander, Charlotte Melia, fail to ground the ideas in human beings.

Perhaps its just that the possibility of cancer feels much more remote than the reality of it. But I think the problem lies in the way Genesis prioritises ideas over emotion, mind over heart. This leaves something that is about breast cancer more than it is about those who suffer from it, more “issue” than “play”.

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The Blurb

Following a two-year research partnership with the UK’s only charity dedicated to the prediction and prevention of breast cancer; Prevent Breast Cancer, Genesis is a brand new play from acclaimed playwright Frazer Flintham. Taking inspiration from interviews with medical professionals as well as patients and their families, the production was initially developed with the late Morag Siller (Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Holby City and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet). The project continues in her memory after Morag died of breast cancer in April 2016. Coronation Street co-star and breast cancer survivor Sally Dynevor (known to viewers as Sally Metcalfe) succeeds in her role as an advocate of the project.