Touring – reviewed at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London
How to Save a Life is a hard-hitting, tear-jerking and heartfelt story of love, friendship and the harsh reality of what can happen when you put off making important grown-up decisions.
Melissa, played by Heather Wilkins, introduces herself to us as she just finishes arguing with her boyfriend James Ford’s character Toby over glitter for her upcoming celebration party. The somewhat trivial matter becomes extremely poignant as the storyline develops.
After noticing and ignoring many signs that her “vagina” is changing, the pungent smell emanating from there finally forces her to see the doctor. Melissa’s smear test is a wincing experience for female audience members as you can feel every expression on her face through your own visits to the doctor for these intrusive and important tests.
After the diagnosis that she has cervical cancer, the first person Melissa talks to is Maria (Katerina Robinson). As her “BFF”, she takes the news in a joking tone to begin with and we witness the mood changing fast as the reality of cancer sinks in.
Watching Toby’s body language as he is hit by the impact of this devastating news is definitely one of the tear-jerking moments in the play. To have found the “one” and to be facing Melissa’s aggressive cancer at such a young age highlights the importance of making sure you have regular smear tests.
How to Save a Life combines the performance of Melissa breaking through the fourth wall at regular intervals drawing the audience into her life as she explains the catastrophic life-changing events unfolding at great speed for her and falling straight back into dialogue with either Maria or Toby.
This is a very good example of a Fringe production where the tightknit cast of three work together very well. Writer and director Stephanie Silver’s professional job in the NHS and personal experiences have provided her with the knowledge to bring a sense of humour and warmth in raising awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of regular smear tests that are vital to all women’s physical health and as testing rates are falling again these tests need to start becoming a priority again.
Through How to Save a Life at the Edinburgh Fringe I hope it will encourage more younger women to book an appointment and look after their “vaginas “.
Three and a half stars.
Writer and Director-Stephanie Silver.