Writer and Director: Rebecca Phythian
The birth control pill has been around for decades. It has given a hundreds of millions of women a remarkable level of control over their fertility. It has supplied a level of agency over personal decisions about reproduction that previous generations could only have dreamed of. Nevertheless, as Rebecca Phythian’s intimate, intelligent and noteworthy autobiographical two-hander, The Pill, reminds us, no medication comes without potential side effects. As an exploration of one woman’s struggle, not just with a medication that her body will not accept, but also with a sometimes unsympathetic healthcare system, there is much here to reflect on.
Given a welcome showing at the Bread & Roses Theatre as part of the Clapham Fringe, the short piece is a combination of different elements. There are the author’s own experiences, delivered verbatim and in blistering fashion directly to the audience. Her recollections of intense mood swings, clinical depression and anxiety, and the crippling impact these feelings have on her relationships with friends, family, and partner, is eye-opening and invites empathy.
We also hear recorded interviews with other women whose experiences, though different (and thankfully not common) include blood clots, intense pain, cramps, unexpected bleeding, and dramatic changes in weight. Then there is a cleverly put together dramatic reconstruction of Phythian’s encounters with a well-meaning but ultimately ill-informed and inflexible family GP (an all-too-believable performance from an excellent Adam Martyn). A later depiction of her interaction with a bewildered and frustrated boyfriend feels underwritten.
Phythian is clear that the most polemical of her reflections are personal and do not necessarily describe the experiences all (or even most) women have with this particular form of contraception. Opinions will vary as to whether the side effects she describes are really quite as unspoken about as she suggests, or indeed whether GPs truly shy-away from honest and comprehensive discussions about the medication’s potential drawbacks. But this is undoubtedly a sincere, engaging, and well-performed depiction of a personal story from a talented and committed actor. The Pill is a worthwhile contribution to an ongoing debate about women’s reproductive health, and, as theatre, 35 minutes well spent. It deserves a wider audience.
Reviewed on 24 September 2022