Unseen Unheard, Theatre Peckham

by Euan Vincent

Unseen Unheard, a show seeking to improve the representation of Black women with breast cancer, is a co-production between Black Women Rising and Peckham Theatre. The production emerged from the real stories of black women’s struggles after a cancer diagnosis and the myriad problems that the system affords them, based on their race. From the belief that black women don’t feel pain – “they see us as superhuman and subhuman at the same time” – to the absence of prosthetics of an appropriate skin tone, point to health inequities that the statistics sadly bear out. Black women are 28% more likely to die from a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis than white women with the same diagnosis.

Striking a balance between campaigning and entertaining is a tricky business in political theatre. Fortunately, writer Naomi Denny clearly sees the issue and has written a play that masterfully walks the line – peppering her script with statistics and insight, while never leaving behind her twin bedfellows of character and narrative. Six women bring her words to life, marshalled by Simon Frederick and Suzann McLean’s co-direction, as they meet one evening in London for a community support group session.

Carol Moses’s was quick to disarm with her ever-engaging portrayal of Dorah, a woman with a terminal cancer diagnosis and a penchant for slipping into heavy Jamaican-English to make her equally heavy proclamations that never failed to solicit hearty laughter from the audience. On the other side of a character divide stood Yvonne Gidden’s Sonya, an uptight Christian who refused treatment for her cancer “because it was not what the Lord wanted”. The centrepiece argument between the two over this refusal highlighted the anger and frustration that simmered beneath the lives of all involved.

Ultimately, Unseen Unheard is a well-crafted play that is brimming with talent, warmth, and good intention, and deserves a much longer run than its current schedule of five nights. I hope that Black Women Rising continues to spread the word and the government and the NHS begin to open their eyes and ears.

Unseen Unheard runs through 4 May.

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