When you think of a Eulogy, this would most likely be associated with a speech given by a loved one at a funeral. Cue IdeasTap Underbelly Award winner Toby Peach, who turns this very notion of a Eulogy on its head, and uses it as a means to celebrate life whilst living. Ahead of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Theatrefullstop were able to speak to the writer and performer about his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at a young age, what he’ll take away from IdeasTap’s legacy and what he’d like for audiences to take away from his show.
Hi Toby! You’re set to perform your new piece, The Eulogy of Toby Peach at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?
I am equal parts frantically excited and terrifyingly nervous! I’ve asked a lot of people about going to Edinburgh as this is my first time and I want to be as prepared as I can be. The show has been about 18 months in the making and I’m looking forward to sharing it with an audience and seeing the reaction. There seems to be a really exciting buzz about the show – it’s time for it to be released!
The Eulogy of Toby Peach was one of four shows to win this year’s Ideastap Underbelly Award, how does it feel to be a recipient of the Award?
It’s a great honour- I have seen other shows that have won the Award over previous years and I was so proud to have even been shortlisted- let alone winning it! I was shocked and delighted when it was shortlisted as it was a difficult show to sell in writing- ‘it’s a show with my own name in the title that is about cancer’ not really sellable I thought. I’m so grateful to IdeasTap for supporting me to make the show and giving me then opportunity to tell this story- it’s great to know they believe in ‘The Eulogy’.
This year witnessed the closure of Ideastap after 4 years of supporting young artists. Has the charity left a legacy behind? If so, what will you take from the Ideastap experience?
IdeasTap have been my go-to place for both opportunities and inspiration for many years. Whenever I felt like I needed a spark I would go onto the IdeasTap website and hunt around, reading briefs or their blogs to get my creative juices flowing. It’s a great loss to young emerging artists as it’s extremely difficult when you leave uni or drama school and set out to conquer the arts world, only to find it is nothing like the bubble of education. IdeasTap inspired our generation of artists to be proactive and strive to make our own work and it leaves behind a big creative hole to fill.
The title of your piece, The Eulogy of Toby Peach suggests that your play is a tribute, a celebration of your life. What inspired the title and concept of your piece?
The title was decided quite early on in the development of the piece and links to learning about my mortality through the experience of having cancer. I realised we will all need a Eulogy in some way or another but, for some reason, I don’t need one yet. It was however the definition of Eulogy that got me interested in the concept- a celebration of life. Why would I wait for someone else to celebrate my life after I’ve died? I want to do it now! The show explores how I am still here and aims to celebrate how we are giving people a small element of hope with diagnosis. It takes people on the journey of my experience with cancer but it is a story that many will connect to; we all have our own relationship with cancer.
Being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at both 19 and 21, these must have been extremely testing times, especially at such a young age. Was the process of creating your play an emotional one?
The story started life as a short story at BAC and this was the first time I had decided to talk about the experience. Since then it’s been 18 months and I’ve had to dive into the memories of my time with Hodgkin’s quite deeply, researched by reading books on cancer and meeting specialists to get a better understanding of the disease. At times it has been tough as you encounter so many stories, a lot that have troubling endings, which is the nature of cancer. However there has also been a cathartic side to it, I didn’t understand what had happened to me during those years and it’s taken a long time to understand it but now I do I am excited for the future. I also think all the tough times will be worth it if it achieves my aims.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the production?
An understanding of what cancer is and what a cancer patient may go through but also, most importantly, a sense of hope. The shocking fact is that 1 in 2 of us will have cancer so that means that everyone in that audience will have some link to it in the future. I hope the show offers support to us as we face those challenges but also delivers that element of hope. Only thanks to our progression in fighting cancer was I given a chance of living and as we continue to research, support and discover I hope more lives will be saved.
Who else are you looking forward to watching at this year’s festival?
All of the other IdeasTap Winners – I’ve heard so much about them through this process and I’m really excited to see what they’ve all come up with.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep thinking about your audience and why a story needs to be told. If you’re passionate about it then chances are there are others who are too. Also, don’t be afraid to share it with others, especially if it’s autobiographical- they’re an audience and they know what they like.
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
The Eulogy of Toby Peach will be showing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Thursday 6th to Sunday 30th August at the Underbelly Cowgate. For more information on the show, visit here…