Lily Blundell performs solo in this self-devised piece about her experience with cancerAlex Lau (@alexchlimbs) with permission for Varsity

Sick of It was not made to be subtle. Walking into the Corpus Playroom, the first thing I saw was a row of giant, birthday-esque balloons, shimmering and shifting under the stage light — ‘CANCER’ they spell out, in shiny silver. This is a show about a reality few people wish to look in the eye, a show that should make us feel out of depth because we are. There is a clear line between audience and performer, not merely marked by the microphone cord. A deeper precipice signifies the boundary of the performance space. We are not sure of our footing. Of what to expect.

“Cancer becomes the backdrop, not the main character”

Lily Blundell plays upon this expertly, always sure to reveal to us the cracks in our own preconceptions — striding onto the stage, she opens the show with a joke. “Cancer,” she booms into the microphone, while holding intense eye contact. We laugh. She smiles at us, then tells us firmly: “This is not a stand up show.”

This interplay between the comedic and the desolate is what powers the heart of Sick of It — what allows it to be relatable and yet not, entertaining and yet not, pausing at the heights of quips to insert precise, gut-wrenching details that are sure to make us tumble back down. Blundell is crafting a conversation around us that anticipates our input, expects our questions – hair, awkward encounters with doctors, wigs, questionable hospital food. There is an expertly executed back-and-forth despite there being no ‘back’ from us; while the audience is quick to jump in with reassurance (“Was it a bit shit of me to use cancer to get out of supo deadlines?” “No,” is the resounding response), we do not play a part in this dialogue. This is not a narrative that needs us present to be told – Blundell’s pacing, her pauses between pacy anecdotes, lapses into meditative silence, gives the impression that she, like us, is trying to anticipate the end of her own story. Telling it, she says, is something she can do for a change, bypassing the articles that appear if you search her name on Google, emblazoned with titles like “Woman beats cancer to go on to Cambridge,” articles that enlighten but obscure, keeping her lived experience always slightly out of focus.

“This is not a narrative that needs us present to be told”

This is the ultimate strength of the show: its laser-sharp spotlight on the personal. Amid swamps of agony that Blundell could easily render in compelling detail, she chooses to hone in on the mundane and intimate, the low light and sparse set keeping her the only object in our eyeline and amplifying the details she gives. A Christmas where she missed both her family dinner and the hospital one. A time she convinced herself she had overdosed — and was subsequently going to die — from shooting herself up with too much morphine. Cancer becomes the backdrop, not the main character; this is a show fundamentally concerned with what it means to be human, what it means to keep hoping, even as there seems to be very little hope to grasp at.


Mountain View

The Herb Garden loses its way

In a musical interlude which lends the show a new layer of engagement with Blundell, one refrain sticks with us; “this one’s for all of them living their lives.” To be able to sit in the Corpus Playroom, to watch someone who has survived not a “battle,” as she insists, but a “treadmill” that keeps rolling no matter how hard you fight, to go back to essays and classes and a body that supports you, is a privilege that can easily be forgotten when we are not having these difficult conversations. Blundell is quick with jokes, fast to poke fun at the absurdity of some of her experiences, happy to laugh about how cancer is the trump card that wins at any pity game. But we also leave the theatre with a tenuous but profound sense of joy — nothing is certain, and this is a revelation that comes right at the close, as the lights go dark and Blundell takes a momentary pause. Nothing is certain, and we must go on. This show makes us want to. “Hopefully you’ll clap,” she says. “I did have cancer.” And we do.

Sick of It is showing at the Corpus Playroom from Wednesday 17th to Saturday 20th May, 9:30pm.