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How to Save a Life review at Underbelly, Edinburgh – ‘glitter-filled and energetic’

Heather Wilkins and Katerina Robinson in How to Save a Life

Melissa (Heather Wilkins) likes glitter. I mean, really likes glitter. She also likes dancing routines to Spice Girl tracks, sparkly bum bags, hanging out with the boyf, Toby (James Ford), and getting wrecked with her bestie Maria (Katerina Robinson). Oh, and she also has cervical cancer.

On the surface, Stephanie Silver’s How to Save a Life is pure 1990s kitsch. There are Friends T-shirts, tattoo choker necklaces and short blasts of B*Witched. As the serious underlying storyline develops, all this fun-time paraphernalia takes on the aura of being an increasingly desperate attempt by Melissa to pretend that what is happening to her isn’t happening to her.

Wilkins’ manically cheery delivery captures this almost pathological attempt to remain happy, although at times it becomes a little too intense. She has, however, undeniable energy and vigour as she bounces around to pop hits in preparation for Melissa’s so-called ‘Cancer Party’.

The relentlessly upbeat feel of the piece doesn’t always serve it well and some parts of the medical diagnosis narrative could do with clearer details. But it’s refreshing to see a play about illness that goes against the normal heartstring-pulling attempts to tell these types of stories that often characterise the genre.


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Glitter-filled but slightly one-note version of a medical story