Writer: Rachel Trezise
Director: Julia Thomas
Reviewer: Luke Seidel-Haas
All around the world, the pro-life/pro-choice pendulum is swinging wildly from side to side. In a referendum in May 2018 The Republic of Ireland voted in a landslide result to “repeal the 8th”, allowing the Government to legislate for Abortion. Across the Atlantic, several southern states of the USA have recently caused controversy by introducing so-called “heartbeat bills”, severely restricting or even banning termination in many cases. Meanwhile, in the UK, Northern Ireland remains the only nation of the UK to not allow free access to abortion. This is the context in which Rachel Trezise’s blisteringly relevant Cotton Fingers finds itself.
Aoife Murray (Amy Molloy) lives on a council estate in Belfast, and works in the local cinema. She doesn’t wish for much, apart from to get out of the working class estate she’s found herself trapped in. What she doesn’t want is to get pregnant. Yet following an “accident” with her boyfriend, that is exactly what happens. Living in a country with restrictive laws governing termination, Aoife has a choice – either have a child she doesn’t want and can’t possibly provide for, or travel to the mainland of the UK and get a termination.
Flitting between retelling her journey to Cardiff and exploring Aoife’s backstory and difficult family life, Trezise’s script is poetic, touching and manages to feel intensely personal yet simultaneously strangely universal. The play explores the desperation that women feel when choices about their body are taken away from them, as well as the feelings of guilt and shame that this can cause. Performed strongly by Belfast based actor Amy Molloy, she creates a likeable and empathetic portrayal of a young woman struggling with a life-changing choice. Sometimes it feels like she’s just a headstrong and streetwise 20 year old with her head screwed on right, however, sometimes it feels like she is a little too self-aware – both of herself and of her place in history. Similarly, while the writing, in general, is excellent, the final third of the play delicately treads the line between advocating for change and feeling preachy and is occasionally guilty of the latter.
The set of Cotton Fingers is basic – a row of plastic waiting room chairs in front of a faux brick wall, and this design helps to highlight one of the central themes – that of waiting. Aoife waits for her period, waits for her flight, for her appointment, and is still waiting for change in Northern Ireland. Murrays manipulation of the set to create different spaces is simple but effective, breaking up the tempo and ensuring the show maintains energy and pace. By stripping back all but the most simple of lighting and sound queues and by keeping the set simple, Cotton Fingers forces you to concentrate on the human element.
The play manages to weave together complex layers of social, political and cultural narratives, while managing to also remind us of those suffering as a result of archaic restrictions on women’s ability to choose what to do with their bodies. Abortion rights may seem like an abstract concept to those of us in Wales, but for those living elsewhere not being able to access termination can cause huge suffering and pain. The combination of Tresize’s insightful writing, Molloy’s playful yet sincere portrayal and director Julia Thomas’ direction creates a thought-provoking, memorable and ultimately uplifting story.
Runs Until 8th June 2019 | Image: Contributed