Creator and Director: Julia Samuels
Reviewer: Richard Hall
Six months ago when Creator and Director, Julia Samuels began working on this project, little could she have known that the opening of this verbatim play would coincide with the beginning of Donald Trump’s Presidency and his decision to reverse legislation supporting safe abortion care for women across the developing world. Such is the background to this absorbing and profound portrayal of stories of real women who have experienced pregnancy and abortion.
Performed in an accessible, engaging and upfront style with live music that has become the hallmark of this wonderfully inventive and cutting edge theatre company; the play aimed primarily at young people, cleverly weaves stories from interviews with over fifty women and medical practitioners to highlight and debate many of the contentious issues connected with abortion and sexual health.
The talented cast of four young female performers wear earphones as they recount the verbatim text, apparently listening to the real life contributor’s speaking their stories as they do so. Although this brings a degree of realism to the piece, it does feels by the end of the performance a little bit unnecessary and contrived as it is ultimately the strength of the individual performers and the text they are speaking that never once lets the audience forget that it is real women and their experiences that they are talking about.
Acted out on a stunning set designed by Miriam Nabarro, consisting of four white boxes dominated by two suspended red neon lights, representing the positive lines of a pregnancy kit, the four performers share with sensitivity, tears and often laughter, the experiences of four women who have all had abortions.
These include an appealing Scouse teenager, a Muslim sixth form student and a young Zimbabwean peasant girl. Their stories and those of the other contributors are performed in seven snappy compelling sections which use the verbatim style of the piece to examine how the young women have made their decisions to terminate pregnancies, the procedures used to carry out abortions, the rights and roles of what are jokingly referred to as “impregnators”, and the complex moral maze that lies at the very heart of the pro-life and abortion debate.
With a more subdued and mature approach theatre-making than has been the case with some of their previous shows and although some of the company’s trademark mashed up, pulsating beats and energised theatricality may be missing, the production is all the better for it. In a programme note, Director, Julia Samuels writes that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetimes, this is made even more poignant with the revelation that the starting point for creating the play was her own admission to an actor that she herself had terminated a pregnancy. This is a brave and courageous position from which to embark on a journey that has compressed hundreds of hours of interviews into ninety minutes of well crafted, challenging and gripping theatre.
Rightly so at the end of the performance, Alizah Khan, the exceptional Dorcas Sebuyange, Emma Burns and Jamie-Lee O’Donnel, were treated to a standing ovation. The ovation was also in part for the nameless contributors who gave permission for their stories to be shared and also for Julia Samuels who with this piece, has created both an outstanding piece of verbatim theatre and also made a timely contribution to the global movement to challenge the reduction of Women’s rights. Although targeted at young people this is a play that in the current political and social climate demands to be seen by audiences of all ages; men and women alike.
Runs until 4 February 2017 | Image: Contributed