The Eulogy of Toby Peach

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Anna Fleck

at 10:32 on 25th Aug 2015

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The Eulogy of Toby Peach left me unsure of what to think. Although I was moved, I feel this was more an effect of the sensitive subject of cancer than the delivery of the performance or the language of the script. In Peach’s journey from diagnosis to treatment, his emotional struggles are exploited on stage. On the one hand this play allows spectators an insight into a state of being that is usually foreign and incomprehensible, and on the other, the cynical focus on how cancer takes over your life ostracises the audience from the main character.

The performance took pains to separate Toby from the rest of the audience, instead of demonstrating how people with cancer can be happy and normal too and should not have to be defined by their illness. Toby is categorised into the exclusive ‘Cancer Club’, where he is invited by the Club’s smarmy president to drink cocktails of medicinal drugs and to partake in a toxic drinking initiation, otherwise called chemotherapy. Although the President offers moments of comic relief, such as when he dons a coat, cane and top hat to parody Willy Wonka, when he missed the mark, the play took an uncomfortable turn towards the twisted and morbid.

Peach occasionally overacts. In the final few lines he turns to the audience with gushing gratitude as he thanks the ‘tax payers’ who give money that funds drugs to save lives. Whilst his heartfelt homage to scientists who have contributed to the field is understandable and insightful, the sudden leap of logic to explain that we the audience cured him comes across as a plea for one last reaction.

Similarly, where the musical dance medley with mistress Ivy (a pun on his IV drip) starts by making the rise and falls of his illness and relationship with painkillers surprisingly digestible through a charming comic style, the scene unfortunately loses momentum as it drags on for too long.

The intrusions of hard facts and statistics thankfully pin down this play, which could otherwise run away with sentimentality. The archival Kodak photos of Peach as a child, teen that falls in love, and a young adult posing for a cancer campaign are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage and these speak louder than Peach’s spoken words. In Eulogy, generally reigned in and understated is best.

This gritty play conveys the complexity of cancer and the issues surrounding human mortality, challenging preconceived notions of the ‘right’ way to deal with illness. Only those who have experienced the illness can fully understand what Peach attempts to tie down in 60 minutes, and so, this show at least deserves credit for tackling taboo. The Eulogy of Toby Peach is unlike anything else I have seen at the Fringe this year, and as it incites such polarised views, it is still worth a watch.

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Chloe St George

at 11:17 on 25th Aug 2015

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Toby Peach stands before his audience, and delivers his own eulogy, the true account of his experiences with cancer. In his “one man show where [he] play[s] all the parts”, he brings us along with him on his journey through diagnosis, remission, relapse, losing your hair and lying to the ones you love.

The production is emotive, yet not overly sentimental, which makes for a refreshing exception to the rule followed by most stories with the same subject matter. The script, Peach’s own writing, is not particularly poeticised but almost scientific and reliant on numbers, to tell us, for instance, that he was diagnosed with cancer 2,102,000 minutes ago. Many of the nicest moments of the show come when Peach offers his audience an insight into this unique way he has of looking at life, comparing the uncontrollable spread of cancer cells to a sticky keyboard spilling out unwanted letters and exploring the relationship between a man and his IV cable.

Most notably, the fear that cancer brings is explored in an unconventional way. It takes the physical form, here, of the sadistic, menacing president of the Cancer Club, a claustrophobic club that one cannot choose to leave. He dons sunglasses and hands out cocktails but never lets us forget that 1 in 2 of us will become Cancer club members at some point in our lives. Incidentally, the contrast between this character and that of Toby Peach is fairly well handled and very easily distinguished. The use of 70s disco music is appropriately uncomfortable, and contrasts nicely with the stunned silence of Toby’s scenes. Peach excels at controlling the pace of the narrative, which speeds up and slows down as he switches between the two principal characters.

But often this unconventional take feels unnatural, and stands in the way of presenting Peach as a character to engage with. At times he has more of the presence of a street performer hyping up his audience, or a young teacher bounding about a classroom, desperately trying to convince us that his subject can be interesting. Even if you share his fascination with the powerful disease or are equally in awe of the power of modern medical science, this often makes for uncomfortable viewing. Peach has clearly had a long time to come to terms with the illness, but the audience, swept up in the pace of the show and Peach’s determined optimism, has no time for such (perhaps needed) reflection.

The story itself is honest, but certain aspects of the production, particularly the use of music reminiscent of a Nikon advert, felt contrived. Toby Peach – his attitude as much as his story– is already inspirational, so some of the gimmicks are unnecessary, but the show is nonetheless distinctive and enjoyable.

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