I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip… @ Contact Theatre
In I Told My Mum I Was Going on an RE Trip, director Julia Samuels boldly tackles abortion and its stigmatisation. The spotlight on the difficult topic is still as bright as ever today; just last week Donald Trump’s first move as President was to cut funding of overseas abortion aid. He sent out a pretty clear message about how highly it should be prioritised, but, in this piece, Samuels sends out a stronger one.
With an all-girl cast of only four, Samuels managed to do what so many in the media, or schools – or anywhere – have failed to do; she made us live it, and with that, understand it. How did she manage it? She went back to basics, and approached it as realistically as possible. The play is split into six clear sections, and is based on a series of interviews which made up ‘hundreds and hundreds of hours’ with various people, all linked only by the fact that their lives had been affected in some way by a termination. It’s fleshed out by some amazing interludes of soulful live performances and poetry.
The four girls who play out this broad range of real characters are all brilliant young actresses hailing from across the UK – Aizah Khan, Dorcas Sebuyange, Emma Burns, and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell. They delivered the words of the interviewees by repeating them back through earphones wired up to an MP3 in each of their pockets. Charming and symbolic, the set-up meant that one could not start a scene without the other; when it came to abortion, everyone had to be in sync – on the same page – or the platform for protest couldn’t work.
Throughout the performance, I watched them convince us of the emotional thought process that comes with it all. By portraying so many different people. from a highly educated pro-life gynaecologist to a Liverpudlian working-class boyfriend, Samuels left no stone unturned. With this emphasis on the astoundingly large number of people who are involved in just one termination, we are left confused as we see just how isolated the woman is left after all of this is finally over. It was also an extremely clever way to bring up current issues that remain contentious and unresolved – particularly concerning illegal abortion – from those conducted close to home to those that happen in Africa. She makes us wonder, particularly with the last scene of the play (which, I warn you, is the most moving scene you will ever experience), what our part is in it all. As UK citizens, we are directly related to the fact that abortion in Northern Ireland comes with a suspended sentence if we’re lucky. But we feign ignorance, because it is easier that way. A disconnected life, for the average citizen, is easier. Equally so for a young girl on her way to her own illegal abortion, which she will shortly after die from:
“Disengaged, headphones on, and her head slowly falls. She slowly nods her head to the beat of the music.
And the beat goes on.”
Samuels effortlessly convinces us all that knowing of such injustice comes with a responsibility to get educated.As girls, it crucially makes us confront things, including our own sexual personal experiences and the sticky situations which have come with that that we would otherwise have left behind, gladly forgotten about. Watching this play imbues those of us who have not experienced abortion with an understanding of what it really means to have to go through this invasive and often emotional process. She makes it real for the audience, and it is this that gives the piece the feel of a call to action to help the women who don’t have access to the support they need.