In case anyone in the audience didn’t know what a toilet looks like, a neon sign reading ‘Toilets’ hangs in between, well, two toilets. There probably are partitions between the said toilets, but these, alas, must be left to the imagination. Sisters Marnie (Elizabeth Hammerton) and Jen (Iona Champain) are deep in conversation, doing that thing that some (but by no means all) women do when they go to the toilet together, ostensibly to do what must be done in public conveniences but also to put the world to rights.
There is the usual talk that twenty-somethings have of dates, or rather what constitutes a date, but for all the talk in the big bad world about men who don’t visit the doctor, Marnie can’t be the only woman out there who behaves similarly. Everything is going relatively swimmingly, although there are always ‘first world problems’ that are seemingly insurmountable. But then, in line with many contemporary plays, along comes a Very Critical Incident that shakes the sisters’ tight friendship to the core.
What starts off as the beginnings of a situation comedy ventures off into melodrama when Marnie reveals she has a condition. It is not, at face value, frankly, on the scale of losing a loved one, or even the breakup of a relationship. But it does have a significant impact on Marnie: a diagnosis of ‘premature ovarian insufficiency’ (or, as the NHS website calls it – yes, I looked it up – ‘early menopause’), even if she wasn’t necessarily seeking to settle down and start a family, is understandably upsetting.
The production attempts to do too much in an hour. The apparent humour in the play doesn’t sit well with the highly emotional response to a negative pregnancy test and an eventual appointment with a doctor. While it could be argued that the play gives its audiences a wide range of human emotions, and therefore is reflective of the ups and downs of real life, there are too many loose ends in the narrative, and the play ends rather abruptly. An extended period of silence from both characters was bizarre, if only because watching characters sit and reflect doesn’t exactly make for great theatre.
I shall leave it to others to determine whether witnessing conversations between ladies in public toilets is akin to a fly on the wall documentary or an invasion of privacy, or both. The lavatory setting also means there is more recollection and description of events instead of dramatizing key moments. The script is consistently full of naturalistic dialogue, which gives it a feeling of accessibility and affinity. But there was never the sense of doom and gloom that the strong reaction from Marnie implies should reverberate around the theatre. Such is the sisters’ strength of character, ultimately, that one gets the feeling that they’ll pull through. They’ll be okay – after all, they have each other, and the play sends an important message about the importance of family ties.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The little-known condition Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and attitudes to women’s health issues in general are explored, questioned and raged against in a funny and heartwarming show about two sisters coming to terms with one’s recent diagnosis. Presented at Underbelly at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018, Theatre Unlocked’s debut show was created in close collaboration with UK charity The Daisy Network, as well as multiple individuals living with POI, to shed light on how the condition affects sense of identity and life choices. Flushed plays out in seven different bathrooms, as sisters Marnie and Jen retreat to that well-known refuge for a heart-to-heart through cubicle walls.
By Catherine Cranfield
Directed by Catherine Cranfield
Cast includes: Elizabeth Hammerton & Iona Champain
(running 12 Oct – 6 Nov)