Review Cotton Fingers, National Theatre Wales, by Sam Longville

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

‘Rich people have abortions, poor people have to have kids’ – Welsh writer Rachel Trezise delivers a timely monologue that tells the cruel yet common tale of Aoife, a young working class Northern Irish girl who under the state’s archaic abortion laws is forced to travel to Wales to receive her treatment.

The play is a matter-of-fact, non-sugarcoated telling of how Northern Ireland’s failure to align with the rest of the UK most harshly affects working class women, who have until recently often been unable to afford the trip across the Irish Sea, which is now funded by the NHS under new law in England and Wales.

Originally performed in West Wales (poignantly the location from where Aoife takes a ferry back to Belfast as part of her grueling 14-hour journey following the termination), Cotton Fingers is one of five ‘love letters’ to the NHS that formed National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 Festival, celebrating the NHS at 70 years old. Recent revelations off the back of Trump’s state visit this week have made Cotton Fingers evermore relevant as the tycoon turned US president licks his lips at the thought of putting the NHS on the table as part of post-Brexit deals. The play is a compelling case for why the NHS must remain free at the point of need as it unaffectedly showcases a section of society who most benefit from its service.

Amy Molloy as Aoife delivers an understated performance, befriending the audience from the outset and offloading her character’s thoughts and innermost feelings following the painful yet all-too-common journey she has been forced to take. She skillfully takes us through the harsh realities of her character’s situation as a young, working class girl, eager to regain control over her future. Trezise’s writing is candid and clear-cut, stating ‘this is truth of the situation women are facing in Northern Ireland’ and consequently asking ‘now what are we going to do about it?’

Designer Carl Davies produces a simple yet effective set. A grey brick wall backdrop and a set of matching airport waiting room-style chairs evoke a sense of oppression and entrapment when paired with Aoife’s grey, uniform-like attire. Meanwhile, a mirror floor slowly reveals itself throughout the play as Aoife travels across the space, unintentionally moving the dust-like particles off its surface. The mirror serves to entrap our character further in its surface, a strong metaphor for the oppressive space she finds herself detained in – by the cruel laws that keep her there.

The play tells a frank, yet emotive story of how Northern Ireland’s abortion laws hurt those in its poorest communities. However, hope remains a prominent theme of the play, a hope that very soon Northern Ireland will follow the Republic’s lead. As Aoife puts it herself, ‘very soon, we’ll be next.’

Cotton Fingers runs until Saturday 8th June at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

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