Red Alert – Cancer – ZOO Playground

Written & Performed by Alan Wilson

Directed by Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir

Rating: 3 out of 5.

For years, Allan Wilson has supported the Arts and Theatre of Edinburgh. It’s 2022, and Wilson makes the decision to remove himself from his usual spot in the audience and slip onto the stage. A writer, a creative, a performer. This story has sat with Wilson for a while, as he tells the family story of their connection with cancer, and how out of five children – all the redheads were affected. 

That’s the beauty of the Fringe really. And though this may well be the most reserved and simple Fringe show one may see this year – the one with the most time and thought put into it. And while the polish of a seasoned actor may be remised, the sincerity is what Wilson possesses to maintain control and affection from the audience.

From their birthplace of Canada to the venture to Scotland, Red Alert – Cancer focuses primarily on three people: Allan and his elder siblings, Heather and Ian. All redheads. We receive nuggets of their childhoods together, but mainly their time in treatment and discovery of their illnesses. And where elements of Ian’s time ‘making money on horses’ and his sister’s legendary Stockbridge parties are mentioned, they are only glimpsed by the audience, but there’s still an inherent trust with watchers to the legacy of Wilson’s family.

Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir (who is also directing Sandcastles), is a familiar talent for many in and around Edinburgh, and her influence has a reserved but obvious mark in ensuring Red Alert contains additional dimensions outside of the projected slides and Wilson’s discussions with the audience. Small lighting queues offer a hue of emotional signal, and ‘exercise’ breaks all work in tandem to break up the show enough to maintain attention.

But the humbleness of the show is what many will attach to – Wilson’s more approachable and gentile mannerisms structure this less as a performance and more as chit-chat and demonstration of sorts. But audiences recognise the value of the story and the authenticity of Wilson’s voice. This is true even for those unfamiliar with Wilson, where his family tale is one which could ring true for us all.

Everyone approaches the subject of health, particularly the ‘Big C’ with their trepidation and experience. To hear the candid way Wilson faces the disease throughout the production, without reserve or insult, is remarkably refreshing and likely relieving for some. 

In the end, nothing is solved. As Wilson says, he is merely asking the question of the relation between red hair and Cancer. He isn’t an Oncologist; he is just a Wilson. A man who has seen Cancer’s cruel and confusing ways, a man sharing a story, a deeply personal one, without vainglory or pity, a story of three redheads and cancer.

‘Refreshing, even relieving for some’

Red Alert – Cancer runs at the Zoo Playground until August 13th

Tickets for which may be obtained here.


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