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Beth Vyse: As Funny As Cancer review

| Comedy | 10/09/2016

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Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

While the show contains funny and moving elements, many will find Vyse’s surrealist style obstructing the enjoyment and empathy that should follow.

Of all the shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Beth Vyse’s As Funny As Cancer was the one I was most intrigued by: could Vyse find enough humour in the ordeal of being diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 and having a mastectomy to sustain an hour of comedy?  Equally, would her “surreal and mental and brash and bold” performing style work alongside such an emotive topic?  Previous reviews suggested ‘yes’, but the show has since undergone significant tweaks aimed at making it slicker.

Although Vyse deserves credit for telling her story with a good helping of gallows humour, I felt that many of its madcap elements missed the mark and neutralised too much emotion.

Before explaining why, I should point out two caveats.  First, As Funny As Cancer would work better in the evening, with alcohol flowing, emotions heightened and more people willing to ‘get on board’ with its approach.  Secondly, it’d be better received in a fuller venue, not the half-empty hall in which Vyse tried to inject some mid-afternoon energy.  In reality, environment inevitably impacts people’s appetite for wackiness.

The show’s themes are survival, altered aspirations and support – all strong topics that most can relate to.  And Vyse is a good storyteller, capable of displaying vulnerability and sardonic humour – especially when narrating her diagnosis, contrasting her mother’s nervy laughter with her father’s strong and silent refusal to enter the specialist’s office.

But she does this too infrequently, favouring surreal interludes presumably intended to soften the darkness, but which often distract from it altogether.  A case in point is the show’s introduction in which Vyse, dressed as Dolly Parton, collapses on the floor after chasing an oversized pink balloon representing her ‘boobie’.  Or when she dry-humps a middle-aged audience member wearing a Michael Jackson mask (the name of her boyfriend at the time), directs people to soak her in water pistol ‘pre-cum’ or crowd-surfs over a dozen bewildered individuals.

There’ll be some who can see past these interruptions or – perhaps in a different environment – enjoy the show because of them.  And I’m glad, because Vyse deserves every success with the show, given the catharsis it gives her and hope it offers to others.  But I worry that in her efforts to fine-tune, she’s lost the vital rawness that once earned As Funny As Cancer so many accolades.

Beth Vyse is performing As Funny As Cancer across the country over the coming months.  For details of dates, times and venues, head to her official website or follow Beth on Twitter @BethVyse.  Or to find out more about the show, see our detailed preview.  

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