We Should Definitely Have More Dancing – Oldham Coliseum

36-year-old actress Clara Darcy is in rehearsals for a play when her life takes a dramatic turn. She has been suffering from headaches and neck pain for six months and ends up going to A&E when painkillers aren’t doing the trick any more. Her world is turned upside down when an MRI scan reveals a fist-sized cancerous tumour in the back of her head.

She must undergo surgery straight away to remove most of the chordoma, then go to Christies to have proton beam treatment to remove the remaining parts.

Proton Beam Treatment represented by a bubble gun, being sprayed into the air by Clara Davies, in We Should Definitely Have More Dancing at Oldham Coliseum in Manchester.
Picture Credit – Joel Chester Fildes.

This is a real-life, autobiographical story about the experience of being diagnosed with cancer, presented by Clara herself. But this isn’t a depressing weep-fest like The Fault in Our Stars, although it does have some moving parts. The audience knows that this doesn’t end with death, because the protagonist is alive and standing on the stage in front of us.

Remarkably, the tone of the play is positively upbeat and joyous fun. Hard, difficult situations, such as an MRI scan, are lightened by an inventive use of props, like a rubber duck or a red wellington boot, standing in for medical equipment. Most surprisingly, Clara’s proton beam therapy is represented by a bubble gun. It’s a playful representation of an awful time, which focuses on life itself, rather than the very real prospect of death.

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing is beautifully written as a collaboration between Clara Darcy and Ian Kershaw. It is so beautifully written, in fact, that I bought the play text straight after it finished and have subsequently read it again before writing this review.

Three Versions of Clara tell her story. We Should Definitely Have More Dancing Oldham Coliseum Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – Joel Chester Fildes.

Clara’s character is cleverly separated into three different entities. Alongside the actual Clara Darcy are two other actors, Shamia Chalabi and Suzanna Hamilton. The two play multiple roles, with Chalabi adding youthful exuberance to roles, particularly Clara’s sister. Meanwhile, Hamilton remains a calm, reassuring presence throughout, whether playing Clara’s mother or the lead surgeon, Omar, who operated on Clara to remove the tumour.

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing is filled with gorgeous monologues about mayflies only living for a day, how precious life is, and how death is an unavoidable certainty. There’s an emotional dream of motherhood, which takes on new profundity, considering that Clara’s tumour has a 50% chance of growing back. Perhaps most importantly is a speech delivered praising the fantastic work of the NHS and their tireless effort to save lives, and how underappreciated they are.

Flashbacks are also interspersed throughout the play, maybe a theatrical way of showing Clara’s life flashing before her eyes after being confronted by her traumatic diagnosis. During the hardest of times, she remembers falling into a pond as a child, clubbing as a teenager, and dancing on a rooftop in Spain with a man who turned out to be Mr Wrong. The flashbacks all serve as a poignant reminder to dance and live life to the fullest, as you never know what will happen in life.

Clara Remembers Dancing on a Rooftop in Spain
Picture Credit – Joel Chester Fildes.

This is a play that will affect its audience in different ways, dependent on their own lived experiences. Personally, I deeply resonated with it because I have a similar rare condition, multiple exostoses, where bone tumours grow randomly and have had repeated MRI scans and several surgeries to remove them. Thankfully, mine are non-cancerous, but it’s hereditary and there’s a chance that they will grow back. I also have a higher risk of developing bone cancer as a result. As such, I particularly understood and respected Clara’s attitude to not dwell on the negatives, instead deciding to shut them down in determination to ‘get on with it’.

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing is a wholesome, life-affirming play which is beautifully written and staged in a funny, playful way. Watching it will almost certainly make you appreciate life a little bit more.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 2nd July, before it goes to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. For more information or to book tickets, click here.

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