Everywoman – Bunker Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Anonymous

Director: Amelia Sears

The most famous speech in theatre history, ‘to be or not to be’, may have been written for a man but it is really a woman’s question. The decision to create or deny life is one that most women face at some point, but it is a choice everyone has an opinion on. For its penultimate endeavour, The Bunker Theatre stages the anonymously penned play Everywoman which speaks to notions of motherhood and the external ownership of the female experience.

As children, we absorb female behaviours from our mothers, whether that is shaving our legs or knowing that one day we will have children of our own. As the character in Everywoman leaps to her early 20s accidental pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage follow, while careers take off and boyfriends become a husband. But indecisiveness about children continues into her middle 30s.

Staged in confessional style and performed as five chapters addressed directly to the audience, this first-person narrative is a recognisable and honest account of the various pressures experienced by young women. Accounting for more than 50% of the population, being a woman is a universal experience, but it’s rarely presented as such so the ways in which the anonymous writer demystifies the mass of confusions, certainties and complexities that plague anyone of childbearing age is meaningful and a supportive.

It is full of recognisable conversations with pushy mothers desperate for grandchildren, worries about the effect of babies on careers, bodies and mental health, and developments in social status and preparedness for parenthood all wrapped in a deceptive comic shell that earns wry laughs of recognition one moment before rapid changes of tone take the audience to the darker and rarely discussed experiences of abortion and miscarriage, as well as labour and illness. All the while, the protagonist genuinely debates her individuality and whether she wants a child at all.

Performed by Jade Williams, this monologue is both personal and widely applicable, drawing out the exasperation of a woman under siege, whose body and purpose seem to belong to anyone but herself. Williams finds so many layers in this story, the duality of the speaker’s experience as well as a raw intensity in loss and fear as events unfold. But there is candour too about reproductive functions, physical and emotional reflexes, culminating in Williams emphasising her own identity and her truth to add to that of the writer.

Each performance this week is followed by a confession read aloud by another writer exploring the theme of motherhood and their own honest contemplation of the challenge which are worth staying around for after the main show. Everywoman takes issue with the concept of universality as it is currently defined – expressed primarily in disdain for Philip Roth’s novels and in celebration of Elena Ferrante – and the notion that women should conceal their less dainty biological responses or various conflicted impulses to give birth or not. “You don’t need to be a mother to be a woman” the playwright reminds us: to be or not to be indeed!

Runs until 22 February 2020

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