In the genre of one-woman shows, Heather Keller’s Chemo Barbie is solidly on the side of the confessional and very personal. She is a charismatic performer who makes this account of her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment conversational and funny, while detailing practicalities like breast reconstruction surgeries and cold cap hair treatment that are probably not inherently riveting.
There’s an originality to the way this story is presented. From humorous renaming of friends according to their personalities, to the enactment of an argument between hair on different parts of her body, Keller eases into topics and characters skilfully. Although we know that she made a recovery, we’re never sure what will come next.
Transitions between the narrated and acted segments of the show are a little coarse, but insights into Keller's psychological journey effectively convey her frustrations with those around her who let her down. A particularly insensitive friend who reappears after failing to give her promised support gets a very welcome talking to. The show centres the importance of sensitive care and of feeling connected with others during difficult moments, and once those moments have passed. Of course we know these things are important, but it's something different to be shown how kindness and thoughtfulness can impact someone's quality of life.
Balancing character dialogue in a solo show requires precision, and there is at times an excessive amount of back and forth in these reported conversations. Although it isn't the most technically innovative piece of theatre, it is warm and funny.