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THE EULOGY OF TOBY PEACH – Underbelly, Edinburgh.

the-eulogy-of-toby-peach-lst171997Toby wants us to laugh at cancer. Seriously. In The Eulogy of Toby Peach he demystifies the reality of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with wit and humour – yet occasionally wrongfoots the audience.

Peach switches between himself and his alter ego, the swaggering curl-lipped host of The Cancer Club, complete with sunglasses, gaudy neon pink club sign and sickly lighting. He invites us on the unpredictable journey from fledgling modelling career to chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, measuring time scales in seconds, minutes, hours and days, representative of the altered perception of time that serious illness brings.

Alliterative names of medication trip off his tongue with ease. He lists descriptions of the side effects while he channels his inner barman and concocts complex cocktails for the audience to sample. He knocks back vile-sounding shots like they were end-of-the-night Jägermeisters. This is a cathartic two-fingered salute to the illness that has plagued his early 20s, but Peach is reclaiming ownership of the disease and his body.

Yet this is also a tribute to the many disparate things which have come together to cement his chance of a future. Scientists, doctors, imagination, creativity, naughty magazines, and the enduring support of his girlfriend through some of the darkest hours of his life. But thrown into this life-affirming acceleration of human achievement is a punch to the guts, which taps into something primal – a beautifully judged moment of fragility.

All of this is thoroughly engaging to watch – yet we are frequently so absorbed in the heartfelt storytelling that errant punchlines leap out at us, demanding laughs, whoops and cheers – and we’re not ready for them. We are so emotionally engaged, that laughter feels borderline inappropriate. A show of this calibre doesn’t need to keep the mood light – our rapt attention from beginning to end should be enough.

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Reviewed 11/08/2015

By Gail Bishop

6th – 30th August 2015
Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX.

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