When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
The Body: Henley Fringe Festival
Being diagnosed with cancer would knock anyone for six, but Henley playwright Caroline Bowder fought back by writing a play about her experiences. The result is the rather whimsical The Body, seen at the Town Hall last week as part of the six-day Henley Fringe Festival.
The two-act play shows the body’s internal organs chatting to one another — sometimes in gruesome detail — about their functions, and collectively try to repel the evil invader, Cancer. With characters representing the colon, rectum, anus, sphincter and bladder, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of conversations going on inside the body. Meanwhile, the owner of the body, She, is seen going through all the doubts and emotions that go with a cancer diagnosis, and the strain it puts on the sufferer’s family — in this case, her husband. Comedy and poignancy intermingle seamlessly as the play flits between scenes both inside and outside the body, so that you find yourself laughing one minute and being moved to sympathy the next. Above all, the play makes you think, and hits home just how devastating cancer can be — but also how there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
Occasionally the play borders on the bizarre. Astonishingly, you quickly find yourself accepting body parts talking to one another, but when She starts talking to her internal organs and apologising to them for not looking after them better, and even indulging in a spot of tango with Cancer when he’s cut from her body, it takes the whimsy just a little too far.
It’s all hugely entertaining, though, not least because this production — directed and designed by Andrew Harries — features a pleasingly strong cast. The most memorable portrayal comes from Kevin Layne (pictured) as a cool, laid-back, cane-swirling Cancer, with a deliciously evil laugh and a penchant for breaking into song. The internal organs react convincingly to his invasion of their territory, and much of the play’s comedy comes from the conversations inside the body. Fliss Walton holds things together admirably as She, and Jonathan Benda captures the feelings of the long-suffering husband very effectively.
Elsewhere in the festival, there was the usual variety of comedy, drama and music, all held in various venues across Henley — including pubs, clubs, cafés and even a boat that cruises along this scenic stretch of the Thames while you enjoy the onboard entertainment. n For more information about the Henley Fringe Festival, and for details about next year’s events as they are announced, visit www.henleyfringe.org.