Ever been ticked off about your body clock grinding steadfastly forwards? Wondered how the life advice doled out to you has mysteriously changed from ‘whatever you do, don’t get pregnant’ to ‘so…. when will you be starting a family’? In her one act, one woman play, Joanne Ryan explores the nature and notion of ‘free choice’ for women deciding whether they really want to have a child.
As it did for me, Ryan’s work will speak to many twenty- and thirty-somethings (aka potential future parents). While a rise in education and career opportunities has given many young people, particularly women, greater choice, it has also left us performing a tricky balancing act. Besides work, family expectations, the rising costs of living and religion (if you have one), there’s the big question of whether and when to have a child. This casserole of confusion is further spiced by the information overload offered by the Internet, readily available at our smartphone-happy fingertips.
Through Eggsistentialism, Joanne Ryan tackles these dilemmas with a disarming combination of sensitivity, dry humour and raw honesty. Ryan’s work is immediately striking in drawing attention to both historical and present barriers in Ireland surrounding women’s choices around contraception and family planning. This is especially topical given the upcoming Irish referendum, pledged to take place before the end of May 2018, on unrestricted access to terminations up to 12 weeks. For those of us in London with access to 24 hours chemists and confidential sexual health services, it can be easy to take these choices for granted.
However, this is no single-track play. The skilfully crafted complexity of Eggsistentialism stands out in the way that Ryan weaves this context through the narrative of her present day female character – a fully independent and empowered mid-30s woman approaching her own choice with regards to starting a family. For her pregnancy is no longer an ‘unavoidable fact’ of sexual relationships but, for the first time in her family history, an explicit choice so long as her body allows. And it is through her unpicking of the tangle of questions surrounding this choice that I found Ryan’s character so appealingly relatable. Delivered with impeccable comic timing, Ryan raises uncomfortable questions that many people will have thought of, but never spoken aloud due to fear of judgement. Rather than trying solely to be acceptable and liked, the narrative delves into questions around selfishness, selflessness, joy and regret.
Eggsistentialism is a play that left me feeling challenged and comforted all at once. Ryan’s humour and humanity draw you in, a bit like listening to an old friend telling a story in a pub, but amidst the chatter she raises thoughtful and serious topics that have kept coming back to me throughout this week. If you like a play that prompts you to think, but will also leave you chuckling (all I’ll say is Tinder in Limerick…), then Eggsistentialism comes highly recommended.
Eggsistentialism is showing at the Arcola theatre (E8 3DL) until Saturday 3rd February. Get your tickets here.