Cancer survivor creates Edinburgh fringe play

Toby Peach will invite audiences to the (not so) exclusive Cancer Club. Picture: Richard Davenport
Toby Peach will invite audiences to the (not so) exclusive Cancer Club. Picture: Richard Davenport
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A YOUNG performer is to turn his two battles to beat cancer, when he was only 19 and 21, into a comedy-play at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

Toby Peach will be creating his own “eulogy” out of his three-year fight against Hodgkin’s lymphoma after winning a prestigious slot for new theatre work at one of the biggest Fringe venues this summer.

The 26-year-old, whose cancer has been in remission for four years, promises to take audiences on a “discovery of self-mortality” in his Underbelly show.

The actor and theatre-maker says it will tackle the impact of a blood cancer diagnosis in a “refreshing, insightful and humorous way”.

Publicity material will urge audiences to join him “in the (not so) exclusive Cancer Club, sample chemotherapy cocktails and select the perfect funeral playlist”. He will be recalling receiving stem cell treatment from a machine that “was like something out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”.

London-based Peach has developed the play with the Old Vic Theatre in London, where Hollywood star Kevin Spacey has just stepped down as artistic director. Originally conceived as a short story, it was instead pitched as an interactive solo show for an awards scheme run by and arts charity IdeasTap.

He said the show, The Eulogy of Toby Peach, had been drawn from a “fascination with the science of the disease that nearly killed me”, but insisted it would also be “a celebration of life”.

Peach said: “I started working on the story about a year ago, which was the first time I’d decided to write about my experiences. I found it really interesting – people I knew were very positive about what I was discussing and I just carried on writing.

“I hadn’t planned to perform anything myself initially. A lot of people don’t want to discuss having cancer and just want to move on from it.

“But I got quite interested in the whole science of cancer and also the things that had saved my life. I decided to really explore exactly what had actually happened to me. I didn’t really understand what cancer was.

“You don’t really expect it when you’re young and healthy and, to be honest, I didn’t understand it when I was going through my treatments. It was only when I came through the other side that I began to question this thing that had affected me.”

Peach underwent chemotherapy for three months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when a tumour in his neck was discovered while he was undergoing training at drama school in Essex.

Doctors found his cancer had gone into remission, but a relapse occurred a year later and a more extensive programme of treatment was required, as well as a stem cell transplant.

He added: “My story with 
cancer is one of millions and everyone has their own unique journey with it. It’s not something we choose to have. Only one in ten cancers are caused by people smoking or not exercising enough. The majority of cases are just caused by mutations in our DNA.

“My aim is to allow people to have an understanding of what cancers are, but also look at it in a more positive light. For me, learning about mortality at a young age was very enlightening. I hope I have a real understanding of what I have now because I nearly lost it before.

“There are obviously dark elements as the show is talking about a very serious subject, but I know I have to make that world accessible to people.

“There is a lot of humour in it. When I look back now a lot of the things that happened to me were very funny. However, it’s definitely not stand-up.”