By Carmel Shortall
Janice Day’s one-woman show is adapted from her book of the same name and brings the same lively wit and mordant humour to play on the stage of the Etcetera Theatre.
Slim, elegant and with a twinkle in her eye, Janice introduces herself as she walks onstage. “I know the question trembling on everbody’s lips is…did I survive? Well, you’ll have to wait until the end of the show to find out.”
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer sixteen years ago – at only 39 – she little thought it would be the making of her, forcing her to change her life and realise long-held ambitions. The night before her mastectomy, an old woman in the next bed told her she would reinvent herself and like what she became…
Janice guides us through her initial ‘shame’ at having the unmentionable disease (she felt like John Hurt in Alien – with this thing inside her – about to ruin everybody’s lunch party) to the decision of what type of re-construction to have and the consequences of this. With the resulting missing nipple, a hernia, a ‘dog ear’ and an asymmetric abdomen, she states, “I was a vision.”
With a 50/50 chance of surviving the next ten years, she rejected chemotherapy on learning that the best it could offer was a 5% increase in survival rates – and the worst? “It would be like calling the SAS in to get rid of a rat behind the sofa.” She decided to follow an alternative route, taking control of her own body to keep the cancer at bay and uses a neat device to explain her reasoning: the ersatz parable of the princess and the wise woman.
Getting it Off My Chest allows us a peek at Janice’s childhood as well guiding us through the sixteen years since her cancer diagnosis. And so we get to see the origins of her sugar addiction as well experiencing the reality, for Janice, of cravings and self-loathing as she scoffs a family-sized pack of doughnuts and goes on the rampage for the chocolate Christmas tree ornaments. She finally sheds her seven stones overweight by cutting out sugar completely. But her final task in turning her life around is to reduce her levels of stress and so her husband has to go.
Having spent years ‘not writing’, she now resolved to finish her book as well as resuming her singing career, doing stand-up and acting for the first time in last year’s Camden Fringe.
The monologue is nicely broken up with musical interludes. A trip back to 1963 is announced by the Beatles’ Help! And coming to terms with her childhood is celebrated by Janice leading us in sing-a-long rendition of Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days.
Long on humour and mercifully short on gory detail, Getting it Off My Chest is an inspiring account of what one person can achieve when they’re up against it.
Getting it Off My Chest is produced by Mark Lindow and directed with sensitivity by Matthew Gould.