Looking down the barrel of her final fertile years, one modern woman goes on a comical quest to uncover the “ifs, hows and crucially, the whys” of reproducing her genes. Thinking outside the box in an effort to decide what to do with her own, eh, box, no stone is left unturned in this journey of extremes. We chat to Joanne Ryan about her play Eggsistentialism which features a look at family, fertility experts, fortune tellers, philosophers, daytime radio and the dark recesses of the internet – all are consulted as she tries to figure out if making a life for oneself should involve making another.
Your play Eggsistentialism, has garnered quite the reaction around Ireland since its inception. For those that have not heard of it, what is it all about?
It’s about the journey I went on in my mid-30s to try and figure out whether or not to have a child. It’s also about my mother’s experience of getting pregnant in the ‘70s and Ireland’s reproductive health history.
Amazing, a topic that is rarely in the spotlight. Where did you find the time to write such a script?
I started developing the show in early 2015 while I was on a theatre development scheme, HatchLK in Limerick.
From there I was supported through Fishamble’s New Play Clinic to develop the script further with dramaturge and director, Veronica Coburn and ultimately the work was completed the following year thanks to an Arts Council project award. All told, it was close to 18 months from inception to premiere and I reassembled the creative team again 6 months later to develop the script and the show further so it actually took more than two years in total. I think a long development process allows you build in time to let drafts ‘sit’ which is important.
From Hatch Limerick ’15, to Edinburgh Fringe, you have spread your wings and gotten amazing reactions. Please tell our readers about how you got on in Edinburgh and where you are next bound?
I had heard horror stories about Edinburgh Fringe before I went. I had images of myself staggering down The Royal Mile in the 3rd week, swigging a bottle of gin-laced Berocca and gluing clumps of my hair back on. Happily it never came to that. It’s hard work, absolutely, but also a lot of fun. There was a brilliant response to the show and in the last week won a Lustrum Award, a Best Storytelling Bouquet and The Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award. It couldn’t have gone much better really, and I still have all my hair. I was very lucky that the show was being presented as part of Culture Ireland’s Edinburgh Showcase. I couldn’t have brought the show over without their support. I was also lucky to have Health Point UK as a sponsor because they sent a huge shipment of pregnancy tests and ovulation strips to Edinburgh for us to use as part of our marketing campaign which helped to create a buzz around the show and made flyer-ing infinitely better craic.
After that, thanks to The Melbourne Fringe Award I’ll be taking the show to Melbourne in 2018 and there has been a lot of interest from other Australian venues and festivals so it’s looking like I might be there for a while! I’m also hoping to bring the show to London in June and with some other exciting touring plans in the pipeline.
Having the chance to perform the show internationally is a dream come true. Thanks to Culture Ireland, Limerick Arts Office, The Irish Embassy in Cyprus and Cobalt Aero I’ve just got back from Cyprus where I performed the show as part of Buffer Festival of Performing Arts in Nicosia which was amazing. I was blown away by the response to the show there – they ran out of standing room and left the doors open so people could watch from the street which was a first! I was really struck by all the commonalities between Ireland and Cyprus while I was there as well and am hoping to collaborate with some Cypriot theatre makers on a project in 2018. That’s another great thing about touring – you get to make so many new connections.
What kind of audience does your play attract?
That’s an interesting question because since I started performing and touring it I’ve been confounded by the range. Although it’s a show about my generation, it’s also about my mother and the Ireland and the world that she had me in and so the show has a much broader appeal than I had originally anticipated which is lovely. In Edinburgh, the number of audience members in the 65+ age range increased steadily through the run so they were obviously recommending it to their elderly mates! I love hearing people in their 20s and 80s laughing at the same jokes.
From the varied reactions I can imagine you invoked within your audiences, what has been the funniest reaction anyone has shared with you?
Certainly the most memorable reaction happened after the very first performance of the show in Edinburgh. I was thanking the audience for coming when a woman in the crowd spoke out and told us all that she was an old friend of my godmothers. It turned out that she had an unplanned pregnancy in Ireland herself in the ‘70s and was the reason that my mother had gone to the mother and baby home in London where we lived in until I was two. I had never known the reason why my mother had gone there and it was a very emotional moment for me, and for everyone who was there really, as we both explained the connection and filled in the blanks of the show. I was balling, the audience was balling, the crew was balling and then we all had a big group hug before I had to clear out so the next show could set up. It was a very special and unexpected epilogue to the performance and a pretty magical start to the run.
How profound…What other projects are upcoming or ongoing for you?
I am currently in the early throes of developing a brand new play that has been commissioned by Belltable and Lime Tree Theatre and am busy writing, securing funding, finding partners and assembling a creative team. It’s an exciting time of new beginnings. I’ll be doing a work in progress performance of some of the script in January as part of First Fortnight Festival to try out some ideas.
Article by: Rebecca Egan
Photography by: Eoghan Lyons & Ken Coleman
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