Part of the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival, The Origin of Carnen Power invites us to reflect on Carmen’s journey through childhood cancer, diagnosed at the age of seven.
Developed over three years and co-created by Carmen (now aged eleven) with Toby Peach (whose show The Eulogy outlines his own story with blood cancer as a young man), this show is part game, part video series.
The Origin of Carmen Power is designed for youngsters to watch with their parents or carers. Carmen’s journey is told in bite-sized chunks, each accessed by clicking on an item (desk, hat, teddy, lego brick, photos) in her room.
This means you can go through at your own pace, as quickly or slowly as you wish. You are welcomed into her mind at every step: a world of magic, fairies, and pink. For boys, Toby’s “sideman” role is very useful to help them relate to the piece.
Touching on fear, separation, medical treatments and more, messages like “it’s OK to be scared” are brought to the fore. To be Carmen Power, foes must be extinguished and invasive therapies like chemo accepted as friends.
The audience is not only children who may be living through their own cancer journey, but also those who wish to find out more from the perspective of someone who has been through the ups and downs of childhood cancer.
An overview is available for parents to read at any time, and there is a button to press if you need a pause which prompts Carmen and Toby to share some facts about unicorns.
The Origins of Carmen Power isn’t about “being brave” but more about beating the demons which might cause a child in the situation to struggle with it. Carmen’s monsters, her mum’s song, the ringing of the end-of-treatment bell, are all important to her.
This is all shared in a mix of animation, short video clips, silhouette art, and by the two performers clad in unicorn onesies. This version of the show reimagines the stage show Impossible, which was in development when Covid stopped theatre in 2020.
Although it contains difficult themes by definition, the writing and delivery are thoughtful enough for children with enough maturity to engage as long as someone is with them to answer questions and offer reassurance.
The Origin of Carmen Power was made in association with the Unicorn Theatre before being commissioned and supported by the Unlimited Festival.
It is available to view for free here until 17 January.