When faced with the knowledge that one has a high risk of a potentially terminal illness such as cancer, there are many different ways of dealing with the news. A nurse friend of mine broadly divides these into three categories; the 'Denier', who tells no one and tries to put it to the back of their mind until an onset of symptoms: the 'Acceptor', who does what they have to do to but tries to incorporate the knowledge into their existing day to day life: and the 'Definer', who overhauls their life pre this knowledge and wears the diagnosis as a badge, letting it run every thought, conversation and action they then take. Seeing that Goodstock is advertised as 'a biomedical tale of personal misfortune', written and performed by Olivia Hirst (supported by two other cast members) after she was diagnosed with the cancer-causing genetic mutation BRCA1, it's easy to assume that this will have the tone of the 'Definer', and so any judgment of the piece can be swayed by that presumption, forgiving the faults it may have due to its bravery and truth. But that is to do both the play - and Hirst herself - a disservice that I don't think she would thank you for as she deals with the subject matter as an 'Acceptor', just trying to make sense of it as everyday, and so we owe it to her to view the piece in the same manner. Her simple, hilarious, personal delivery deserves high merit based on the show she has produced, not excused for the subject matter of her diagnosis.

Parking the expectation to call Goodstock brave, or give it any excuses for what is undoubtedly a hugely brave and personal thing to have done, its effectiveness should be judged simply as a piece of theatre. And on that alone, this is a fantastically written, simply told, very funny show that is well worth seeing.

"This is meant to be a factual show, for fuck's sake", she declares in a way that seems improvised (as most of the sections that are direct to audience monologue skilfully do), when she supposedly forgets the medical term for an invasive operation to deal with the genetic mutation. But we know it's more than that. Her tale of discovering the prevalence of cancer within her family tree and the decisions she needs to face when finding she may (and does) have the gene and therefore a high risk of cancer herself, feels like - and indeed, from another writer's pen, could be - simply a tragicomic monologue. But as her knowledge of the effects of BRCA1 (there is also a BRCA2 but she tells us at the start, she only has an hour so isn't going to cover that) evolves, she constantly changes the pace and tone by incorporating music (a few raps on the drum jolt you out of any maudlin moments to return you to the humour), mini-scenes being played out between the monologue of 'right now', and a mix of real people and characterisations (whilst Olivia herself is always herself (the actor and writer), Ilona Linthwaite is always in character as Gran and Rianna Dearden switches from being 'Olivia's performer friend' to 'background musician' to 'every other player in the story' - all of which is explained to us upfront in a rather Brechtian way). By combining these different theatrical styles, the fourth wall is constantly broken down, with the result that we aren't allowed to wallow and so the piece rarely asks for - or warrants - pity, instead keeping you amused throughout. It has the style of a great, short film - and is crying out to be made into one - that both educates and entertains at an equal level.

This is a difficult balance to consistently get right and at times, the 'acted' scenes are the weakest part, pulling us away from the overall style rather than adding to it. The characterisations are a little cliched and therefore difficult to believe, with the performers clearly 'acting' as opposed to sharing - a challenge to get right when the straightforward delivery is so strong and believable, but all the more important to do so. And when I saw it, there were too many fluffs of lines in these scenes, the accents were a bit 'generic northern' and the delivery heavy on downward inflections that became rhythmic rather than real.

Towards the end, the frustrations that come with knowledge come to the fore and it gets a bit sad for a time which - perhaps surprisingly for such subject matter - seems out of place with the rest of the carefully considered tone, as it suddenly seems to be playing for a sympathy that it has previously avoided. The a cappella singing of Abide with Me irks somewhat as it ticks an emotional box that really isn't necessary in such a clever production. That said, I can see how some would want this section to be included as a time for catharsis. Because the subject IS cancer - or, as my own mother still calls it, 'The Big Bad C' - most of us aren't used to it being talked about in such a matter-of-fact way and may expect, and need, this emotional outlet. Personally I think it's an easy way out in a show that doesn't conform to any the usual norms.

Parking the expectation to call Goodstock brave, or give it any excuses for what is undoubtedly a hugely brave and personal thing to have done, its effectiveness should be judged simply as a piece of theatre. And on that alone, this is a fantastically written, simply told, very funny show that is well worth seeing. If you're feeling down and want cheering up, go see it. If you want an emotional journey to have a little sob to (positively), go see it. Excuse the occasionally off mini-scenes and it's an hour you're guaranteed to enjoy - and enjoying a show about cancer is probably not something you'd ever expect.

Reviews by Simon Ximenez

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National Theatre, Olivier Theatre


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People, Places & Things


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The Blurb

A biomedical tale of personal misfortune.

Twice winners of the NSDF Edinburgh Award, Lost Watch return to Greenwich with their new show...

I'm 26. Three women in my family have a cancer-causing genetic mutation*. One of them is old, one is me and the other is dead. In four years time, I have some options**. Basically this is a play written about my relatives without their permission. They won't mind***.


**Involves a scalpel

***I hope

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