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Published on Thursday, 19 August 2010

4.5 stars

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
4-30 Aug (not 10, 17, 24), 5:30pm (6:30pm)
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

What's the worst thing you can imagine happening to you?  How about your young son being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer?  And what's the best?  Winning an Oscar?  In this show, which is based on real events from Mackichan's life, pretty much both these things happen to her.  Well, actually, she wins an Emmy not an Oscar - but as she points out in a glorious, unapologetically self-centered section of the show, an Emmy is really better.

And then the colossal reversal of fortune: her son gets cancer.  We walk with her through the bleakest landscape possible, as a computer prescribes chemotherapy drugs that are delivered by a man in a hazard suit.  One batch of drugs is coloured bright blue like Jeyes Fluid, and each bag of poison is hooked up to her son and seeped slowly into his body through a pipe in his chest.  It's an amazing performance - achingly funny and touchingly sad - as she tell us how to cry efficiently in cars and car parks, how to smoke a joint in a hospital children's playground and how to leave the hospital to record voice-overs for thrush cream.

This is a show about how unpredictable life can be, and how it can not just throw things at you, but hurl them right at your gut.  Mackichan's 9-year-old son suffers horrible side-effects from the chemo, telling his mum that his heart hurts while he sleeps.

The distinctly odd thing about this show is that the first third is about a different story.  We open with a sad, self-pitying, very funny monologue about the breakdown of Mackichan's marriage, events that chronologically happen after her son's illness.  This gives the show an odd structure, with the bulk of it happening in an extended flashback.  In some ways this makes sense - the divorce story would seem water-weak coming after the story of her son - but making the show's time-line take such a hairpin bend was so jarring, I ended up wondering why this material was included in the show at all.

The final sequence of the show is expressionistic.  God asks Mackichan what she has learned from all that has happened, and her response is to dance a flamenco.  I thought it was a perfect response to God's obtuse question; what else could you possibly learn?

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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