Millie is at the peak of her career. However, it's all about to change thanks to an unexpected cancer diagnosis.
Cancer – as with any illness – is never an easy thing to deal with. Each of us deals with trauma in our own way, and Millie's way is to create an imaginary friend to help her make sense of her newly-upturned world. His name is Jack.
Essence Productions, founded in 2003 by Alaine Beek, presents the premiere of 'Jack And Millie', inspired by Alaine's experiences living with breast cancer. She named her cancer Jack, too, and says it's like having a problematic yet comforting friend with her at all times.
A handful of people directly involved in the creation of 'Jack And Millie' are cancer survivors, so the story, one of laughter and truth, is tinged with authenticity and lived experience.
'Jack And Millie' stars Alaine, Jennifer Vuletic and Phil Cameron-Smith and is directed by Nigel Sutton.
Here, Alaine pens an open letter ahead of the show's premiere in Victoria.
“A letter to any woman who has sat in a hospital waiting room wondering if their results are going to be 'all clear'. . . Or something completely different.
As of the time of writing, I, Alaine Beek, am due for my ten-year check-up with my Specialist Breast Surgeon tomorrow. I had the mammogram last Monday. The nurse says nothing – polite, friendly, but no results. Only the specialist can do that. So, I’m either going to be incredibly happy and able to stop ten years of medication, or I’ll be hurtled back into that scary headspace of white fear. Anyone who’s been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease will know this feeling.
Jack is in my face right now. Back again.
When I was diagnosed a decade ago I realised pretty soon afterwards that I had to get out of the wallowing self-pity mindset. I had a sense of, 'Okay, life has thrown me this so how am I going to deal with it?'
The concept of the play I’m about to premiere, 'Jack And Millie', was sparked through a discussion with my dear friend Phil Cameron-Smith who asked how I remained so positive through it all. I explained to him about my Jack – a weird friend that I created in my mind. It was a more gradual realisation of his existence; he looked over my shoulder whenever I thought about cancer. Over time I realised he was just part of me that I had to get used to. His presence reminded me to face things head on, to take action to improve things in my life. Later, chatting with other people, it turns out I’m not the only one who has a similar 'friend', who served a similar purpose. We immediately knew that there was a great, truthful story here which is, for me, at the heart of any play I write. And thus, 'Jack And Millie' was born.
In seeking out a Director, I sent the script to Nigel Sutton. We’ve known each other for years and I knew he’d be perfect for this. At first he didn’t answer so I gently nudged him a few times and he eventually came to a workshop. Nigel had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and gone through chemotherapy and initially the piece was too close for him. Too raw. But after the workshop he jumped in, boots and all, and now it feels like a very cathartic journey for both of us. And we’re loving it. Finding Jennifer Vuletic to play about eight different characters (including my mum, my male friend Declan, and God!) was the extra jigsaw piece that has glued us all together.
A much-stated bit of wisdom is that we can’t control what physical things happen to us, but we can have at least some control on how we deal with it. That’s the tale of Jack and Millie. It’s a warts-and-all story of my breast cancer journey and how I came to accept Jack. There are poignant moments, but there are also lashings of laughter. I never wanted to share a gloom and doom story. I wanted audiences to be able to connect with the human side and laugh with us, and at ourselves.”
'Jack And Millie' plays Saltwater Community Centre Amphitheatre (Victoria) 17-27 February.