Badass is a show that sits in that occasionally awkward mid point between theatrical performance and standup monologue. It’s also unapologetically a show about cancer. Rectal cancer, specifically – hence the title. Sarah Mills (a survivor, and thankfully now cancer-free) leads us through the last few years of her life in a very honest and open examination of an ordinary woman going through an extraordinary experience. Mills is warm and friendly, chatting amiably to the punters queuing outside the intimate Pleasance Bunker 3 venue, and welcoming us in with a smile and a chuckle.
We begin in a nightclub toilet. Mills is in the middle of a disastrous blind date, and has just excused herself to the toilet. And it’s there that she discovers blood in her poo (“Better,” as Mills tells us, “than poo in your blood, but not by much”). Mills never shies away from talking, plainly but clearly, about the practical reality of her experience. We’re shown the plastic vial into which she had to make a “deposit”, and the fake training stoma plug that she was given to practice with. Mills sees the funny side of all of this, and encourages us to enjoy it with her. It’s a tricky challenge, but Mills manages it, and soon has us giggling at the ridiculousness of trying to pull a hot guy on the chemo ward or flirting with her surgeon just before she goes under his knife.
Mills is a good writer, and despite a few stumbles the quality of her material is plain to see. Her jokes are largely excellent, and she has a lovely, lyrical touch with much of her writing, with some of her best moments approaching real poetry. Unfortunately, her pace tonight is off base, and several otherwise magnificent sections are curtailed by a clumsy stumble from Mills or a miscommunication between her and her Tech.
As we follow Mills on her journey, we learn a lot about the symptoms and treatment of cancer, and we also learn a lot about Mills herself. We meet her best friends. We’re introduced to several of her increasingly terrible dates. We meet the NHS nurses who (literally) hold her hand throughout the process of diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and recovery.
Badass is very funny, and impactful if imperfect. Ultimately (as Mills herself admits) it is a paean of praise for the NHS and the people who ultimately saved her life.