If the wait between Baby Girl (a role shared by all four performers, Claire Rammelkamp, Danica Corns, Larissa Pinkham and Carla Garratt, slightly unimaginatively listed in the show’s programme as Baby Girl 1, Baby Girl 2 and so on) being referred to an abortion clinic and attending the appointment was tedious and agonisingly slow, the same cannot be said for A Womb of One’s Own.
A briskly-paced production tackles what remains a somewhat taboo subject fifty years after the Abortion Act 1967, and brought to this reviewer’s mind a rather terse response some years ago from a sharp-tongued feminist to a woman who recounted her rather unpleasant story about navigating her way through the NHS pregnancy termination service, “All that because you couldn’t swallow?”.
A long handwritten note in the programme from Rammelkamp, who also wrote the play, makes clear that frustrations remain today. The play’s portrayal of the NHS veers more towards criticising its limited resources to assist all those who require its services at their convenience than it does towards praise for its healthcare professionals for what they do. This, however, does not make this a political play, and Baby Girl’s assertions are commensurate with a someone who is, as a lyric in the musical Hamilton puts it, “young, scrappy and hungry”. She is keen to get on with things and angry that the matter can’t be resolved entirely in a single consultation, which in her line of thinking is the same as it not being resolved at all.
I must say I did find this stance slightly bizarre. Baby Girl has gone online and looked up all sorts of information, including websites from the Religious Right about how abortion is tantamount to murder. Why, then, did Baby Girl not think to put ‘NHS procedure for abortion’, or similar words, into a search engine? It’s all there, together with a discussion forum (no subscription fees required) called Health Unlocked, run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. But I understand the salient point being made, even if it is a tad over-dramatic – support structures could be significantly stronger than they are, and nobody should find themselves feeling that there is nowhere they can go for specific advice without having to battle through call centre menus and hold music.
As far as the production is concerned, the sightlines aren’t perfect, or at least they weren’t from my vantage point, whenever any of the Baby Girls are lying down. The first half is so remarkably hilarious, with caricatured older relatives objecting by default to anything they didn’t do in their day (whenever that ‘day’ was). Some vivid descriptions of Baby Girl finding her feet during her first term at university are to be enjoyed.
As the show progressed, it became almost inevitable that the narrative was going to get very dark very soon, and very quickly. I didn’t care much, to be as brutally honest as Baby Girl, for the statistics being quoted – one in three women in the UK will have an abortion, for instance. Such figures may have some meaning in terms of appreciating that nobody is an island, as it were, but in such a personal story, these numbers seem superfluous, and even a tad reductionist.
Either way, the arc of the story may have been predictable, but the details were less so. It’s in Baby Girl’s willingness for her life to be something of an open book into which the audience can not only peer into but explore in some depth that the show holds appeal, drawing the audience into the narrative and taking it on a journey. It’s hard-hitting, and for the open-minded, provides much post-show conversation to indulge in. “Most of all, I hope it makes you laugh,” writes Rammelkamp in the programme. Her hope is realised, if my reactions were anything to go by. An impressive and unexpectedly joyous production, it is, all things considered, an FFS, so to speak – a fine feminist show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“Grandmamie, if no-one touches my boobs before I’m 21 I’m going to explode all over the net curtains from pent-up sexual frustration!”
Babygirl is eighteen, a student, and has just discovered SEX – in spite of her strict Catholic upbringing by two crotchety old women. Having rapidly disposed of her virginity, she sets out to find something a little more satisfying. But before she can manage it, she discovers she’s Up the proverbial Duff. We follow her story as she struggles with embarrassing sexual mishaps, desperate attempts to be cool, uncertain religious beliefs and the weight of a difficult choice.
In this ambitious new dark comedy from Wonderbox, four performers bring Babygirl to life, revealing different aspects of her personality and an absurd cast of characters. A Womb of One’s Own uses humour, sensitivity and storytelling to explore the emotional roller coaster that is an unwanted pregnancy and ask why it’s still such a taboo.
Writer: Claire Rammelkamp
Director: Holly Bond
Set Designer/Producer: Olivia Early
Performers: Claire Rammelkamp, Danica Corns, Larissa Pinkham, Carla Garratt
A Womb of One’s Own
Dates: 15 August – 19 August