An autobiographical solo work about childbearing, societal pressure and time running out, Joanne Ryan’s Eggsistentialism is considered, eye-opening and quietly angry.
Summerhall’s Lecture Theatre venue is apt and effective for Eggsistentialism. Somewhat evocative of a TED talk (albeit with funkier graphics, and more amusing ‘interventions’ from the speaker’s mother than usual), you leave Joanne Ryan’s solo show as enlightened about the state of affairs for 35-year olds making significant life decisions (particularly in Ireland) as you do empathetic.
On the surface, the piece is a deeply personal response to the pressures, limitations and complications of having a child before it’s ‘too late’. Oh, and a funny one at that – Ryan’s comic timing is commendable, and the writing’s confident and wry.
To say it’s just a personal account of a universal topic, though, would be missing the point. Ryan’s Irish identity is exceptionally important to this work – and well-pitched incorporations of disturbing and disheartening truths about the history of Irish reproductive rights (and the degree of control the government still exerts over the bodies of women) ensure Eggsistentialism is inherently political. And rightfully, (if deceptively) angry.
We learn that Joanne’s mother, whom we’ve formed a connection with through hilarious soundbites scattered throughout the show, is a single parent – and due to Irish constitution, had to come to the UK simply in order to have her child. We learn of Savita Halappanavar, who died of a miscarriage after being denied the right to an emergency abortion, in 2012 – and a number of other examples of injustice and backwardness.
We also learn, though, about one woman’s more universal process of self-questioning. Surely reproduction is necessary to build upon the escalating progress of the human race, for example, but then again – what if your child ends up being a murderer? Or contributing to over-population/the collapse of the planet? And with every tick of the clock, who can guarantee it’s even an option for much longer. ‘I’ll be lucky if I have enough eggs left to make an omelette.’
Ryan’s performance is engaging, warm and unfussy. The animations are beautiful and fun (providing wonderful juxtapositions to the often horrific content they are highlighting), and the show’s structure – if a little rough around the edges – at least highlights the frenzied inner workings of the mind of a woman being inundated with conflicting information and eternal media pressure. A confident and thought-provoking solo performance.