Fifty years after the abortion act, Dead or Alive at Theatro Technis explores the implications of the procedure through a conversation between a woman and her embryos – but sadly, this novel device doesn’t do the play any favours.
Impassioned debate has surrounded abortion rights since the inception of the procedure. Dead or Alive is a ‘drama in the womb’, written by Keith Hindell and directed by Kasia Rozycki, that attempts to animate this evocative topic for an audience. Though it has good intention (advocating for female independence and right to choose), fundamentally the premise is too entrenched in the ethics for this to be elevated out of feeling like a staged debate.
Upon unexpectedly falling pregnant with twins, an unnamed woman (Joanna Cordle) ponders her options through a conversation with her two embryos. This prism is used to examine the ethical dilemma surrounding terminations and the emotional impact on those that undergo them. Fifty years following the abortion act, Hindell attempts to lift an emotive issue from laws and statistics to a heartfelt drama – but unfortunately, this largely fails.
Despite moments of poetic flourish, for the most part, Dead or Alive‘s dialogue is dense and lacking in nuance. Even with finesse, there’s a fundamental issue with an ‘in-utero’ debate; by personifying the embryos and providing them with a voice (and a humanity), the decision unintentionally inclines towards advocating pro-life ideology. Despite the equality vocalised by the embryos (The Girl Embryo, Natasha Jacobs, supporting the woman’s inclination to abort and The Boy Embryo, James Glyn, wanting to live), providing them with a voice unavoidably creates a sense of guilt. It naturally cultivates empathy which is counter-intuitive to the message of the piece, creating consciousness where there is none. Furthermore, Dead or Alive risks reinforcing the toxic rhetoric of women wanting to abort babies that men want, with The Man (Nik Salmon) and The Boy Embryo fighting for the lives of the unborn. The intention is clearly to hold a mirror up to these arguments to illuminate their flaws, but it just doesn’t always translate. Tonally, the target audience feels quite young – yet the content also doesn’t quite fresh enough to appeal to this demographic. Of course, the issues surrounding abortion will never be outdated but unfortunately, this portrayal did.
The cast are abounding with enthusiasm, yet have noticeably varying levels of capability and conviction. The performances are juxtaposed between the over-earnest central character, grappling with her moral dilemma, and the surreal introduction of two excitable sperm. Whilst the personification of the embryos felt jarring to me, in my opinion, the strongest aspect of the play was the introduction of XX and XY. Humourous and compelling performances from both Sperm, with a special nod to XX (Lucy Hilton Jones) for exceptional comic timing, push this play from a drab debate to heightened surreal humour in a heartbeat.
Although I certainly enjoyed some moments, the comedy juxtaposes with the weighty debate in a manner that isn’t satisfyingly navigated. There’s a disconnect between the central character and the audience, diluting the impact of what should have been a hard-hitting moment. Despite having an esteemed journalist at the helm, Dead or Alive doesn’t deliver and whilst I appreciate the writer’s stance on the topic and the attempt to incorporate these novel plot devices with an issue of such gravitas, it just didn’t entirely work. I unfortunately don’t believe any number of dancing sperm could change that.