My left breast redefines South African theatre

A play about Susan Miller – a remarkable woman who lived through the most, with love.

Theatre is a powerful medium of communication when it’s time to articulate thoughts and feelings about tough topics – topics such as child loss, life’s hardships, being gay, and surviving breast cancer.

My left breast tells the story of the play’s creator, Susan Miller – a mother and cancer survivor. The production debuted in South Africa at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square on May 7 to wide acclaim.

The internationally acclaimed play chronicles Miller’s choice to survive breast cancer and live with each step taken.

Actress Shannon Esra, who portrays Susan Miller in this one-hander production, displays an advanced proficiency in storytelling on stage.

Esra’s professionalism on stage profoundly carried the opening performance through a triggered audience member audibly storming out of the auditorium.

“My grandmother battled with cancer for many years, and one of my closest friends died from cervical cancer four years ago,” Esra said, reflecting on the show’s importance to her. “It’s heavy stuff, and I think people are listening.

The set for this production is minimalist, which enhances the overall effect – accompanied by spectacular displays of light usage to convey tones and textures.

“We’ve been rehearsing since September, and we started getting into it in January this year,” Esra said, commenting on how she goes within herself to find Susan Miller the character. “Where does Shannon go? Shannon is just a body.”

Although not a part of the show, the reaction from the audience members who stormed out enhanced the production’s brilliance – showing how authentic theatre experiences can be for this production’s audiences, aged 16 and above.

Director Janet Baylis described the play as being about a woman who makes choices, choosing to live with them.

“I think that what was interesting tonight was how cancer was a debatable subject about what treatment you should be on, should you walk away?” Baylis said. “Susan Miller has not focused this play solely on cancer, she’s very much made it layered.”

Fellow thespian and national treasure Sello MaakeKaNcube reflected on how the opening show fostered introspective thinking among audience members.

“Theatre is meant to provoke in one way or another, and sometimes that’s what theatre does,” said MaakeKaNcube. “You’ll find a person expecting relief, though it’s not always the case.”

My left breast ran at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square from May 7–11.

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