“To baby or not to baby?” That is the question posed in this brutally honest and exceptionally amusing autobiographical theatre piece.
While suffering from a terrible hangover on her 35th birthday, actress Joanne Ryan begins to ponder one of those big life decisions and her search for an answer leads her to fortune tellers and fertility clinics alike. She mines her experience of family, cross-examines friends, observes parenthood in action and does extensive research with the dedication of a PhD student. The result is equal parts theatre, stand up comedy and multimedia presentation.
The writing is sharp, imbued with personality and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Although having a child is an immensely personal decision, motherhood and its place in Ireland and the world get an airing too. At one stage, the audience gets a speedy account of some key moments in Irish legal, social and popular cultural history in the 20th century. Her life (and egg count) might be under the microscope but introducing political context encourages the audience to think and interrogate along with her. Are women defined according to whether they have children or not? Can you have a fulfilling life and legacy without offspring? Do children make your life hell through a canny combination of sleep deprivation and extra housework, not to mention disfiguring your nether regions? There is a balance between the serious and irreverent.
Art imitating life is to the fore here so the acting was very natural. Ryan is a natural comedienne with a line in self-deprecating delivery. I was in tears from laughter a lot. The actress detailing her results on online parenting quizzes and reading excerpts from dodgy 1980s parenting books are particular highlights. But her jocular stage presence is offset with scenes of real poignancy too. She very occasionally slips into lecture mode, bad egg puns and playing for laughs but those are rare and forgivable. She did well to compete with the continual scene stealing of her mother, Gloria, whose recorded voice and opinions play a great supporting role. Rob, her boyfriend, and other voices pepper the piece too.
The production design was outstanding. Hats off to Pauric Hackett (production manager, set & lighting design), Sinead Diskin (sound design) and Neil O’Driscoll (animation). The animations, using 3D projection, augmented the minimalistic set and made things visually interesting, from online news articles to timelines; the cartoons ensure the play isn’t a complete Vagina Monologue. The voice recordings and music are essential to the piece and again, provide variety to the show. Many aspects of the production are impressive. It was conceived first in Hatch LK (a Limerick theatre incubation project) before being developed further with UK outfit, Theatre Uncut, Fishamble’s New Play Clinic and went from page to stage under director, Veronica Coburn.
As a woman in my early thirties, you could say I’m bang on target audience but judging by the positive reaction of the audience comprised of both men and women of all ages, I wasn’t the only one for whom it resonated. Next stop for the play is the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival (12-17 September) and Smock Alley Theatre and I would heartily recommend going to see it.
It’s difficult to stand up alone and bare your real-life hopes and fears to an audience, especially on such a private and simultaneously public topic. The play is confessional, engaging, thought-provoking and damn funny. Joanne Ryan has given birth to a real bundle of joy in Eggsistentialism.
More information on the play here.
PS: It was lovely to see a nearly full house at the Belltable again! It’s been a turbulent few years for the venue and now it’s back on track with its autumn/winter programme. For more information, click here.