Unravelling the Ribbon: Fundraising, Awareness & Theatre

Image credit: Eva O'Flynn

Student theatre in Cambridge is big business. The biggest shows’ budgets can stretch into the thousands, and the question on many people’s lips as their money disappears into the coffers of the ADC box office is often just where that money is going. The team behind Unravelling the Ribbon could not be clearer: all proceeds from this week’s ADC Late Show will be going to breast cancer care charities, in association with Cambridge Pink Week. It’s a moving, but light-hearted play about three women whose lives are impacted by breast cancer, beginning as a series of monologues that become fused together as the characters form intense bonds with one another.

Unravelling the Ribbon follows hot on the heels of the hugely successful run of Stuart: A Life Backwards, which combined the production of a moving piece of theatre with a fundraising effort, donating proceeds from the show and from a sponsored sleep-out to local homelessness charities. With this production, producer Alex Barnett and director Eva O’Flynn have made the impressive decision not to spend any money at all putting on the play, to maximise the amount they raise for the charities. ‘We’ve been really successful so far!’ Alex tells me. ‘We’ve spent nothing at all at the moment, and we definitely intend to stick to that!’

It’s a bold move in a theatre scene accustomed to big sets and elaborate costumes, and it’s not come without its challenges: ‘Simple things, which in the past I haven’t had to think twice about, have suddenly become a lot more complicated. Our set’s made entirely of fabric, so we’ve had to spray it all with Flamecheck, which normally costs £18 a bottle. That’s meant a lot of hunting for leftover bottles around the ADC and Corpus Playroom from previous shows!’

It’s been made easier by the generosity of many people in the Cambridge community, which Alex has been really amazed by. All of the fabric that makes up the set has been donated by the housekeeping departments at Newnham and Queens’. Meanwhile, the show’s publicity costs have been covered by the Downing Dramatic Society so that the production can publicise as normal- getting publicity printed can be prohibitively expensive.

Unravelling the Ribbon isn’t just hoping to raise money, however. Along with all the events that form Pink Week, the aim is also to raise awareness of an incredibly important issue. Eva tells me how much she and the cast have learnt about aspects of treatment for breast cancer that many might not have thought about before: ‘the feeling of being ‘radioactive’ and isolated; a mother’s ability to just keep coping for her children; the sometimes unexpected reactions from the people around you’. No two experiences of cancer are the same, and this play doesn’t just focus on the conventional image of cancer treatment as a fight or battle, Eva adds, but also reminds us, through the character of Lola that ‘not everyone can be spiritedly brave, though. Some, like Lola, might just want to lie in the dark in silence.’

Unravelling the Ribbon is the kind of play which will challenge your assumptions about cancer, and in that way it’s the perfect play to raise awareness of breast cancer care. The script is ‘really pure, honest’, Eva explains, and it sounds as if this is a production which really will give an honest and true account of what it means to face cancer, not least in its use of humour. The play is light-hearted, at times ‘viciously funny’, because, Eva tells me, ‘it’s laughter that makes life bearable. That’s something I think all three women in Unravelling the Ribbon would agree with’.

Eva and Alex’s passion for the play and for the cause behind it really shine through in everything they tell me about the production and the process behind it. The pair, and the team working alongside them, have put their all into raising money and awareness of an issue that will touch the lives of so many people, and Unravelling the Ribbon will definitely be one not to miss this week.

Unravelling the Ribbon plays at the ADC Theatre from Wednesday 8 to Saturday 11 February at 11pm. 

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