Before even wandering into the theatre room of The Old Stock Pub and Theatre, I was optimistic as to what I was about the see unfold. I mean, who doesn’t love a good old Virginia Woolf pun? Produced by newly founded company Wonderbox, which is comprised of an all-female group of actors from the National Youth Theatre, A Womb of One’s Own looks represents the internal struggles of a young woman deciding to have an abortion when at university. The newly written script, devised by Claire Rammelkamp, is both darkly comic and thought provoking: A Womb of One’s Own is a good addition to the conversation about abortion that our modern society desperately needs to have.
A Womb of One’s Own, is shaped around the crucial topic of abortion and a woman’s choice as to her body. The main character is Babygirl, but in the play her character is divided into four aspects. Played by four actors simultaneously (Claire Rammelkamp, Danica Corns, Carla Garratt, and Larissa Pinkham), these aspects interact and are at times in direct conflict with one another. After losing her virginity to a one night stand during her time at university, Babygirl finds herself pregnant; trying to deal with both impending and historical trauma, negotiating with characters, most of whom have a rather blasé approach to her predicament, and eventually deciding to rid herself of the child developing within her titular womb.
What hits you immediately about this production is its energy and pacing. Under the direction of Holly Bond, A Womb of One’s Own sees lightning fast switches between biting wit and comic moments in its early stages, and transitions to more poignant moments that carry real weight later in the play. The four actors certainly can take equal parts credit for this endeavour at their representations of four aspects to Babygirl’s mind bounce off, console, and even argue with one another, creating a psychological patchwork of a person having to make the most difficult of decisions.
Comedy might at first seem an odd choice in an approach to a play actively seeking to engage its viewers in a careful critique of the mainstream societal view of abortion. Regardless of the legality of the procedure, it undeniably carries a deeply politicised stigma which can have acute psychological and physical implications. The comedy worked into A Womb of One’s Own, however, draws you into the mind of Babygirl in the initial stages in the play. And later, when events take a darker turn and emphasis is placed on the stress, panic, and trauma involved in the process, there always seems to be a gag in waiting and comedy is well utilised to ease some of the tension of the play without trivialising the issue at hand.
The play’s humour also works towards different ends: early on, the laughs bring the audience into the story, but as the plot develops, the fragmented character of Babygirl attempts to keep them out by using jokes to deflect attention away from her situation. She dodges questions, pretending everything is fine, pasting a smile on her face when her true emotions point to wanting the complete opposite. As she develops depression, she begins to lash out at those around her, namely her newfound lesbian love-interest – who she unceremoniously dumps and subsequently treats like an annoyance. In this projection of trauma upon someone else, the audience is encompassed in a newfound feeling of sincerity originating from Babygirl. As the play goes on, not only does Babygirl accidentally open herself up, against the best attempts of her internally fragmented emotional state represented by the four actors on stage, but she also begins the process of healing in front of the audience’s eyes, and this at no point feels contrived or forced.
But that’s not to say the Babygirl herself takes the best advice from those around her and equally does not have access to such advice. Receptionists treat her like a customer, and her doctor has a vague condescending tone which seems to work to alienate Babygirl from a common solidarity with women who have gone through the same experience. This play’s subject matter is important to talk about in the modern world: one in three women in the UK has had an abortion, and it is certainly necessary that works such as A Womb of One’s Own keep questioning why this experience is still so traumatic for those who go through it, and why it is so hidden away from wider society.
This is taken further through the set’s minimalist (and by minimalist I mean almost entirely empty) mise-en-scene, and its small cast. While the four aspects of Babygirl is certainly any interesting way to explore the tumultuous and conflicting experience both mentally and physically, it’s a telling sign that the aspects are almost completely alienated on stage. Nothing surrounds them, no props, other than those picked up off the floor, or furniture, the aspects are surrounded by empty space. This means that at some times the audience are forced to infer roles from the actors’ interactions as no one else joins them on the stage. While Babygirl’s mind is a collective, it is in no way portrayed as part of a community of minds and A Womb of One’s Own always remains a close examination of one perspective on the issue of abortion. The whole staging can be seen as representative of Babygirl’s mind, with the trauma locked away in her subconscious to prevent the pain it caused.
There is one exception however, after Babygirl goes through the abortion and experiences a pain-induced fever dream. Visions of her long-deceased mother plague her, comforting one of the aspects as she screams from the what seems like a hand-grenade bursting in her womb. Hinted at throughout the play by one of the four aspects of Babygirl’s mind, her lack of a genuine maternal figure, and this traumatic loss at an early age comes to bear on all the action of the play more broadly, as it is unsurprising that motherhood weighs heavily on Babygirl’s mind in her present situation.
This appearance by Babygirl’s mother brings into question the reliability of the narration of A Womb of One’s Own. The four aspects begin to argue as the whether her mother was there or not, as to whether this was an instance of intentional misremembering. Babygirl’s perspective and memory is all that the audience has to go on, and this section of the play brings up interesting questions about the effect of the play’s trauma on the narrative. Babygirl uses omissions, seemingly accidental skips in time, and jokes to cover up her momentarily exposed wounds, all in order to present the audience with a portrait of strength in order to maintain her composure. Babygirl is clearly in pain, but the way in which she wrestles with this pain is what is on stage here, and the exploration is a powerful and relevant one.
At the end of the play, we see that this experience has allowed Babygirl to open up, to introduce her girlfriend to her staunchly Catholic (and in a revelation lesbian) guardians, which sees her happier all the more for these admissions. But throughout the play the audience sees Babygirl go through so much, and hide so much, you can’t help but feel this might just be another cover up within her narrative. One starts to wonder if she can’t bring herself to admit the trauma either to herself or to a society that will always see it as her decision, as something she must have been okay with, something she can deal with: a society that might fail to realise that Babygirl might be in need of help and support. Fortunately, when the audience bids adieu to her, she is surrounded by those who can provide this for her.
Wonderbox will be headed to London to The Space from the 15-19th August, more information and tickets can be found here.
 Genevieve Edwards, “1 in 3 Women has an Abortion, and 95% Don’t Regret it – so Why are We so Afraid to Talk About it?”, The Independent 16th July 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/1-in-3-women-have-an-abortion-and-95-dont-regret-it-so-why-arent-we-talking-about-it-10392750.html