Hannah Ali Khan on Cancer B*tch!

Playing as part of A Pinch of Vault, Hannah Ali Khan’s new play Cancer B*tch! is inspired by her own experiences of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer a year ago. The play offers an open, honest, and funny perspective on what it can be like to have cancer in your twenties. The rehearsed reading is directed by Lydia McKinley who is a director, dramaturg, and literary assistant at the Finborough Theatre.

Ahead of the festival we caught up with Hannah to find out more about the play.

Q&A with Hannah Ali Khan

What can you tell us about your new play Cancer B*tch?

Cancer B*tch! originally started as a short radio play I wrote for my Drama Writing MA last year. I wrote it a few months after receiving my cancer diagnosis, and I found it really helpful to work through my experiences by writing. At the end of my course with my treatment all finished, I decided to expand it and turn it into a one woman play focusing on the period between my diagnosis and the end of my treatment. The first draft read like a very messy diary, but I’ve since refined it, added structure and made it more dramatically interesting, while still maintaining the humour and truth from the first draft.

Has it been cathartic to work through your experiences this way?

It definitely has! When I was going through the treatment while doing my MA, I didn’t really have the time to properly process everything that was happening to me, so writing it all down and thinking through all the events of that year has been really useful and helped me process my experiences a lot. It’s also been really nice getting to connect with other people who have had cancer through writing the play, especially other young adults, and share our experiences and support each other.

Is it daunting to be telling us a personal story on stage?

Telling any story is daunting, but sharing something so personal is especially scary. As much as I’ve crafted the play and added elements that didn’t really happen, a lot of the emotional beats are the ones that I went through. It’s quite vulnerable to have this going in front of an audience, and there’s always a worry that people won’t get it or will respond badly. However, I think sharing these vulnerable moments and connecting with people through these is so important, and is what makes theatre such a special medium.

What is it like to have your show performed as part of A Pinch of Vault?

It’s really exciting! A Pinch of Vault feels like a really safe space for the play to have its first public viewing, especially as the audience will know that it’s work-in-progress and not the finished product. The only way to see which parts people are or aren’t connecting with is by showing it to people, and I’m really excited (and of course a little bit nervous) to hear everyone’s feedback and use it to take the play to the next level.

Is there anything you hope audiences take away from the play?

To appreciate the support systems and networks they have around them, and to allow themselves to be vulnerable and feel everything they need to. These are all things that I wished I had done more throughout my cancer experience, so I hope my audience will reflect on that through the show. I also hope people will feel more open to talking about cancer and having difficult conversations, as it still feels like something people don’t really know how to face and communicate about.

Cancer B*tch! is at The Spacement at The Glitch on 17 February as part of A Pinch of Vault