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Skin by Peter Todd at the Jack Studio Theatre

Take a quick look at the NHS website entry for ‘melanoma skin cancer’ and there are, at the time of writing, links to Cancer Research UK, and, Macmillan Cancer Support’s end-of-life care advice. Sadie Jones (Juliette Imbert) has a melanoma diagnosis but – spoiler alert – it’s not like she’s making plans to move into a hospice next week. Relatively few people die shortly after such a diagnosis in any event, and her youth, or so she is told, is in her favour. Her sister, Clara (Elise Busset) insists she should have been there when Sadie went to a doctor’s appointment to discuss the result of a biopsy (why wasn’t she then?), and in a later scene starts questioning the competence of medical staff in a telephone conversation with a hospital nurse. I’m surprised she didn’t commence legal proceedings – possibly even against Sadie, given her ferocious reaction to Sadie trying to stay positive by cracking a joke.

Skin by Peter Todd.Sufficient detail is given to various aspects of Sadie’s life, including her day job, where her line manager Simon (Cosimo Asvisio) pulls her up for inefficiency, effectively forcing her to divulge personal details about her medical appointments, diagnosis and treatment. It’s all a bit of a whirlwind, though this appears to be a deliberate artistic choice, in order to provide the audience with a sense of bombardment as life goes on, even with an ever steeper uphill climb back to full health, which still isn’t reached by curtain call.

Some aspects of the narrative are well-worn tracks. Sadie doesn’t consider herself brave, or a hero, or deserving of other people’s pity. In the workplace, the likes of Jill (Am Wyckoff) are very supportive, and others, well, aren’t. The storyline is, in places, simplified, occasionally unfeasibly so: Sadie gets her way remarkably quickly when she demands an immediate telephone consultation with a doctor. She also, technically speaking, has an incredibly speedy CT scan (a Google search reveals estimated scan times vary from ten to seventy-five minutes), but the salient point in the production seems to be that Sadie feels she has no choice but to deal with a series of setbacks as best she can.

A common feature of hospital consultations is the overuse of medical terminology when speaking to patients, the vast majority of whom, like Sadie, are not medical practitioners themselves. It’s another layer of stress and confusion that this production does well to put across convincingly. The show ends abruptly, with an initial feeling, dissipated by the cast taking their bows, that we had reached the interval rather than the end. But, with the benefit of hindsight, it makes sense – Clara’s story isn’t over yet. Comic relief from a bleak plot comes through in Proshanto Chanda’s characters, firstly as a radiographer performing intravenous cannulation (that is, putting a tube into one of Sadie’s veins), and then as a nurse, or ‘hair dryer man’ as the programme would have it, engaging in banter with other (unseen) staff.

It’s often subtle, at least partly due to the settings of many of the scenes – in a consultation room, at home, in the office – and often emotionally charged. A thoughtful and insightful production that manages to be intricately complex yet highly accessible.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In the prime of her early twenties, Sadie is diagnosed with melanoma. Her quiet life is quickly overshadowed as she learns to navigate life with a chronic illness: getting poked, prodded and bombarded with questions.

When medical staff are all-too-focused on the physical symptoms, Sadie turns to her sister to rediscover her sense of self beyond a diagnosis. Complete with an immersive sensory MRI experience, SKIN is a bold new play by up-and-coming writer-director, Peter Todd, sharing a candid yet amusing view of Sadie’s experience.

Join Oxford-based production company, Scar Theatre, at the Jack Studio this August for the London premiere of this warm and human journey.

written and directed by Peter Todd
produced by Mina Moniri
presented by Scar Theatre

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