Interview: Toby Peach, The Eulogy of Toby Peach

Toby Peach has fought cancer twice – once at age 19 and again at 21. Now he’s taking his one-man show, The Eulogy of Toby Peach, on a UK tour, starting at London’s VAULT Festival and running from 17th-21st February.

The show, which won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award in 2015 and proved a five-star hit in Edinburgh, is a brave and humorous exploration of what cancer’s all about, through Toby’s own story. It’s also a really important show, given that 1 in 2 of us will experience cancer in our lifetime, and I’m grateful to Toby for taking the time to tell me a little more about it.

What prompted you to share your story?

I developed a short story for BAC’s London Stories back at the end of 2013, it dipped into my journey with cancer and it was the first time I had decided to speak about it. The response was fantastic and I decided I wanted to delve deeper into that world, as I realised I had no idea what had happened. I’d been through this life-changing event and I had no idea what had happened – it was all a blur. I realised that I didn’t know what cancer was. This thing that nearly took my life and I had no idea.

If, hauntingly, it is now 1 in 2 of us who will experience what cancer is, shouldn’t we know what it is? As it became apparent that cancer was just me, then how am I still here? This question prompted a deeper exploration and with it came a discovery that I wanted to share.

The Eulogy of Toby Peach

How long has the show taken to develop? 

After BAC and with the help of Old Vic New Voices I developed the show so I could scratch it and then the unbelievable happened and I won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award. I was blown away as it meant I had to make the whole bloody show!

After assembling a cracking team I headed out to Plymouth Fringe Festival to scratch the show further and experience solo performance – I had never performed a solo show before so it was very daunting. Then came Edinburgh; we had a fantastic month getting it out there for the first time and were overwhelmed by the positive feedback to the show from audiences, press and industry alike, as well as being inspired by the learnings and ideas taken away from the experience.

So after all of that we come to VAULT festival, and as we’ve just received Arts Council, National Lottery and Wellcome Trust funding, we can’t wait to get started and develop this show further to reach more audiences in the future. 

Has it taken any unexpected directions?

This has been my first experience of writing, and also solo work, so the whole experience has been quite unexpected. I have strange moments when I’m performing when I realise ‘Oh yer, this happened!’ or a version of it. I mean I never did have an affair with an IV Stand but that relationship was present – so sometimes I’ll be dancing away with IVY (my IV Stand girlfriend) and then it’ll hit me again. It’s an odd experience.

What’s been the highlight so far?

Since Edinburgh I’ve been off to perform the show a number of times and had the honour of taking it to Teenage Cancer Trust’s conference, Find Your Sense of Tumour, for 300 young people who have or have had cancer and their support teams; this was an incredible experience and extremely rewarding.

I was very nervous about performing for them, as I knew they related so much with the subject matter, but they were laughing at lines that people don’t normally get and they loved it. People expect you can’t laugh at cancer but especially when you’re young and you’ve been through it, they understand there are things that if you look at it again are fairly amusing. I spoke to so many afterwards about what it meant to them and that meant the world to me.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?

From diagnosis to remission, relapse and treatment, experience a young man’s journey with cancer in this honest, fascinating and inspiring exploration of modern science and the wonders of the human body. 

What are you hoping audiences will take away from it?

I hope they take away the hardest word to say with cancer… Hope. The show doesn’t say we’ve been lucky and we should be thankful for that, it says we are here because of certain reasons and we have a hell of a way to go – but we are trying. Chemotherapy was only trialled 69 years ago… look how far we’ve come.

Finally, what would be your advice to someone currently living with cancer?

That is a very tricky question to answer, as everyone has his or her own unique experience with cancer. I can’t say there is a right way or wrong way to live with cancer. For me, it took a long time but I wanted to explore what had happened so I didn’t hide from it. I have scars, everyone gets them throughout life, but I realised it isn’t about how we get our scars; for me it’s about how we wear them in the here and now that matters.

See The Eulogy of Toby Peach from 17th-21st February at the VAULT Festival, London.

Toby will also be running a free workshop called Creativity Saving Lives, exploring the background to the show, on 21st February at 2pm.

Interview: Emma Bentley, To She Or Not To She

One of the first shows I reviewed for LondonTheatre1 was a scratch night at Morley College. The five companies performing were all preparing their work for Edinburgh, and competing for rehearsal space and the opportunity to return to Morley for a full-length performance before heading to Scotland.

My personal favourite – and the ultimate winner – was a one-woman show by Emma Bentley of Joue le Genre, called To She Or Not To She, about the challenges faced by women in the acting industry.

After a successful run in Edinburgh, Joue le Genre are now preparing to bring To She Or Not To She to Evolution at the Lyric Hammersmith on 23rd January. I was really excited to see it’s coming back down south, and got in touch with Emma, who was lovely enough to talk to me about the show. Thanks Emma! 🙂

What inspired you to write To She Or Not To She?

Both me and Holly Robinson, who co-wrote the show and directed the Edinburgh version, wanted to stick the finger up to casting directors/writers/directors putting women in shit roles. And in doing so write something ourselves where we could reclaim this exciting idea of getting to do whatever you want and not being judged for it.

Shakespeare at drama school had been a really wonderful experience because I had got to play a load of men: Feste in Twelfth Night and Angelo in Comedy of Errors. Not the big dogs like Macbeth or Richard III or anything but it was good fun. And with Feste in particular, it was refreshing to play a character whose relationship with the other characters in the play was not focused on romance and/or sex. I wanted to continue playing roles like this and exploring Shakepeare’s men. Luckily I started doing some work with Smooth Faced Gentlemen, the all female Shakespeare company based at the Greenwich Theatre, so I did get to play a murderer in Macbeth. Working with SFG made me want to write it even more.

Sophie Wu is Minging She Looks like She’s Dead and La Merda, both at Soho Theatre, were two shows that inspired the style of the show for me.

And then one of my teachers from LIPA, Gillian Lemon would always say, ‘What are you gonna do Emma? Just sit around on your arse waiting for the phone to ring? You’ve got to make your own work!’ So I had her very stern Northern Irish voice egging me on too.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?

Shakespeare’s biggest fangirl falls in and out of love with the Bard and the acting industry, whilst growing into a young woman of no fame or fortune (yet) but some comedy potential.

To She Or Not To She, Joue le Genre

You’re playing yourself – how close is show Emma to real Emma?

I’ve been working quite a bit on distinguishing the different Emmas within the show with Katharina Reinthaller, who is directing the show for its Lyric reincarnation. There are four different Emmas in total, you meet her (me) at 14,19, 23 and then there is also ‘Show Emma’, which is me on stage right now talking to the audience, trying to be as honest as possible.

The other Emmas are a bit of twist on the truth. I like to think 14-year-old Emma is a little more embarrassing than me actually as a teenager but I’m sure my friends would beg to differ.

Emma at drama school is probably a little more hopeful and bouncy than I really was at LIPA, I feel like I took everything quite seriously.

How has the show developed since you first wrote it?

The show has gone through 10,289 drafts. Or something like that. It’s changed a lot. Even in the last few days there are things where we say, do we really need this? And that’s just script wise, then there are lots of physical and spacial changes that we decide on with every rehearsal. The cynical voice of ‘Show Emma’ has definitely manifested herself a little more for this run of the show. And because we’re in a bigger space than Edinburgh at the Lyric there is more physicality to it. I’m going to push over a chair whilst standing on it at one point which I’m very excited about – I get to have my Frantic Assembly moment.

Has it taken any unexpected directions?

Originally I thought the show was going to be me playing a variety of Shakespeare’s men. Then, one day when I was showing Holly a scene for a scratch night I had written, where I played Hamlet on a tinder date (which sounded hilarious to me), she said to me why don’t we just write a play about you? Why don’t we write your story so far of wanting to play Shakespeare’s men? Then you can play a load of men, but also a load of women and yourself. With some made up bits of course to make it more Shakespearean. I’m not a very private person anyway, so I didn’t find it shocking or anything writing my story to share, but I guess I just never thought of it being dramatic. It turns out stick a few gags in and a bit of lighting and you’ve got a show.

What’s been the highlight so far?

In Edinburgh there was a girl who came to see the show, who sat on the front row and who had come up to do a production of Comedy of Errors. In the preshow I played Shakespeare Top Trumps with someone from the audience, so I spotted her and asked, ‘do you wanna play Shakespeare Top Trumps with me?’ She looked at me and was just like ‘YEAH’. That was a good show.

Aaaand getting to be a part of Evolution at the Lyric. I used to work in the café. Now I’m getting to perform my play there. I like the old-fashionedness of it – a feeling of working your way up by getting to know people. Makes you feel part of a theatre family somewhere.

And finally… if you could play any Shakespeare role, which one would it be?

Hammmm ….

Catch To She Or Not To She at the Lyric Hammersmith on Saturday 23rd January at 8.45pm.