The Great Escape
REG: We could all sit around and wait to die, get depressed, watch the cancer eat us away. Or we can try to make the most of what we’ve got left, and that’s what I intend to do. I’ve never been up in a hot air balloon before, and nothing’s going to stop me today…
Three people of different ages, from contrasting backgrounds, have been diagnosed. They work together, through play, to support themselves during terrible times. The stories they share are sometimes fantasy, sometimes based on famous real-life events. One day, in the hospice day-care room, using only the furniture and everyday items they have to hand, they re-enact the first Moon landing. Then, as Reg's strength begins to fail him, he has an idea; they decide to re-create one more story; the epic wartime adventure of The Great Escape...
At the root of each story is an heroic struggle against the odds.
Emily, a young student, is angry about her bowel cancer that is cheating her out of so much, Jennifer, in her 50's, through her Faith, 'beat' cancer once before, but now it has returned, and she is scared. Reg, in his 70's is determined not to let his disease win, if he can keep his brain active until his last breath then he will claim victory. The playfulness and invention they use to re-enact each story, takes them out of themselves and for a moment at least, cures them of their cancer.
The Great Escape was inspired by my work using story-telling techniques with terminally ill cancer patients at a local hospice. For 17 years I led a weekly workshop there, meeting many inspirational people along the way. This play is a homage to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of the imagination. During the development of this script, I worked closely with medical staff at the hospice as well as patients who were living with this terrible disease. Through our sessions, I found that imagination, play and laughter can be vital tools in the battle against cancer.
The play was first written for a showcase event at the Lifelines Conference, an Arts and Health conference at Salisbury District Hospital in 2004. I wanted to explore some of the themes that came out of my work with the cancer patients that I had had the privilege of working with.
During many sessions I witnessed the power of the imagination at work; people who arrived in states of physical weakness and blurred minds could be transformed in the space of an hour into vital, energetic and positive human beings with something to offer. I literally saw colour return to cheeks and sparkle to people's eyes. For me it became clear that invention and imagination is a powerful tool.
Too often people with illness, physical or mental, and those around them, can become understandably preoccupied with the negative side of the 'condition', in many ways there is a sense of 'giving in'; the world of treatments and diagnosis can be so alien to the average person and in the face of this great 'unknown' it is easy to lose oneself. People become focused on the daily routine of drugs and their side effects. Physical pain is so all-consuming and the threat of death and loss grows. It is easy for people to feel powerless in this situation. Life becomes an ordeal of coping with the illness and dealing with the fears and sadness of loved ones as well as personal fears. It is not surprising that people can feel lost.
The simple act of 'making things up', playing and using ones imagination is something that some people lose early in life. Silly games get left in the playground as adult life takes over. But the therapeutic benefits of storytelling and play can be astounding. Through these workshops, people are encouraged to explore their imaginations in a way that they may not have done for years. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of strong group support. This is a 'safe' space where any idea is encouraged, any silly story celebrated.
And it's not all about silliness. Over the years the group has created a lot serious work too; poetry, short stories, radio programmes, art, but most of all plays. Short scenes or full length shows, writing and performing, the group takes on any challenge with gusto.
As with the characters in The Great Escape, while they are in the 'moment' of the play, or the 'moment' of creativity, those people do not have cancer; they are free and they can smile...