Louise Page’s play Tissue was written in 1978 and, although historical now in some aspects, still works as a powerful play about breast cancer.
I say ‘historical in aspects’ because it’s impossible to imagine a woman going to a doctor now with a lump in her breast and being fobbed off or told she’s imagining it. The scene where a doctor explains a mammogram is also probably redundant for contemporary audiences, but it does give the opportunity for a lovely description of a mammogramed breast.
WOMAN: On paper Sally’s breasts are minutely complicated. Their components interlaced like a clump of trees on the skyline before the dawn. Blue, blues and bluish. […] In one there is a blue shadow like the moon behind thick clouds.
Sally has breast cancer. She found a lump in her breast but was embarrassed about touching it or mentioning it. She asked her partner to check but he wasn’t willing. She went to a doctor but they wouldn’t see her as it wasn’t deemed urgent. By the time she is finally examined, Sally has to undergo a mastectomy as the tumour is malignant.
The play is cleverly written for three actors, one plays Sally and the other two take on all the other roles.
SALLY: Oh Zoey –
WOMAN: I am a friend. Because I am a friend I went to Sainsbury’s to buy fruit. I was going to buy chocolate, but if I, Zoey am expected to share, I had rather be indulged in grapes. I wanted to bring black ones or the tiny seedless ones. I notice some have fallen off the stem and crushed. Always select.
MAN: I am an ex-lover. Because I am an ex-lover and therefore no longer care about her putting on weight and having to secure her jeans with safety pins, I have brought her chocolates. Because I am an ex-lover and not quite a friend, I have bought a box without a ribbon, not soft centres. Choosing in a shop which graded its goodies towards the ceiling and in a state of financial cut back, I chose the level just above the jelly fruits.
She looks ghastly and I ask her if she is OK.
SALLY: Because he is my ex-lover I am embarrassed by him being here. His seeing me like this. I tell him I am fine, remember to smile and ask him how he is.
Louise Page has written a play that takes the protagonist through disbelief, despair, feelings of ugliness and unworthiness all the way through to acceptance and enjoyment in her living, breathing changed body. The play flashes back to Sally’s childhood frequently as we see the way girls were brought up to see their bodies as dirty and shameful, which helps explain Sally’s reaction to her cancer.
There are poignant moments, like when Sally asks: “Can a lover bury his face between a lone breast?” and uplifting moments like the following:
MAN: The Amazons were very sexy women. Hence their power. Their captives just swooned and fell at their feet. It was a walk-over.
SALLY: You make me laugh.
MAN: That’s the sort of woman to get hold of, said my father. A woman who gets all her bras half-price. You’ll be able to drink champagne on that.
Read more about breast cancer
Published by Methuen (1982) in Plays by Woman Volume One.
Cast: 2F, IM