When an illness is mentioned in terms of statistics, it’s often hard to make the connection with what it means in reality. I could tell you that according to Cancer Research’s website, there are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year. But it’s a number that you’ll most likely forget tomorrow.
In ‘How to Save a Life’, we focus in on Melissa (Heather Wilkins), an ordinary fun-loving girl living in London who is diagnosed with cervical cancer. Through her experience, the reality of this illness takes shape. We see how things start to shift not just for her but in her relationships with her best friend Maria (Katerina Robinson) and boyfriend Toby (Tom Laker). Here, we no longer have to think about the illness in abstract terms but see the life-altering disease for what it is and how it can target any woman, no matter how young.
From the tone of the show at the start, you would think it’d be a light-hearted and breezy comedy. Melissa notices that her lady garden smells off and there are vagina jokes galore. Just when you start to warm to the characters and think the show isn’t to be taken too seriously, the tone unexpectedly shifts when Melissa is first told of the risk that she has cancer. By setting it up in this way we’re already drawn in and are compelled to know what will happen. The three-person cast all deliver confident performances and the play’s book by Stephanie Silver maintains a delicate balance between humour and pathos.
The show gives a voice to the stories of the thousands of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, wrapped in a moving and heart-warming production. Though it’s never mentioned explicitly, ‘How to Save a Life’ is a grave reminder of the importance of booking in for cervical cancer screenings when advised to.