Oliver O'Shea 25 February 2010

The Corpus Playroom , 7.45pm 23rd-27th February


Katherine Alcock appears in a hospital slip, bandana over her head, and with her hand attached to a drip, as cancer patient Vivian Bearing, in the play she co-directs with Jennifer Boon. Wit documents the stages of cancer from diagnosis to death of this character, a professor specialising in Donne’s Holy Sonnets. Even by the standards of academia, this seems an incongruently specific and concentrated subject focus. Playwright Margaret Edson does not manage to convince the audience in her writing that Bearing is the highest authority on this poet, as any English student would notice. Alcock is also not convincing in her characterisation of an obtuse professor with a formidable reputation. She does however, deserve plaudits for her engaging and nuanced performance.

Onstage throughout the duration, Bearing narrates her story, allowing herself to travel between memories. The fluidity of the production, moving easily without superfluous scene changes, is well-judged, with smooth lighting shifts to help ease the transitions through time and space. Pervasively surrounding Bearing are the stark white walls of the hospital in which she is receiving treatment for her illness, furnished with medical apparatus and wall-charts, including a defibrillator, giving verisimilitude to the setting. Micah Trippe plays Dr Jason Posner, a cancer researcher on a compulsory work placement caring for Bearing, with a directness which is both convincing and damning towards researchers. Despite a late entrance for her first scene, Jenny Scudamore delivers the finest performance in this production, as Professor E. M. Ashford, especially in the beautifully poignant penultimate scene, in which she reads to Bearing, her former student.

The rest of the cast are all secure and competent in their roles, sustaining the engagement of the audience in a drama that is not especially dynamic or exciting. Although it is never boring, the detailing of cancer treatment by pointlessly referencing the technical terms for each medical procedure ensures that the presentation of this illness is neither emotive nor dramatically-enthralling. Despite these reservations, this production has clarity in its storytelling and deserved confidence in its performances which are rare qualities in Cambridge am-dram.

Oliver O’Shea