Killer Cells is one of those plays that comes with some level of uncomfortable awareness for audience members. Having read the synopsis and marketing for the play, you know you are in for a potentially difficult watch. Valleys theatre company Avant, who are carving out a name for themselves as crafters of challenging, up-close-and-personal theatre, did just that tonight. They did not shy away from the stigma of the topic of miscarriage and they have clearly experimented with a number of new approaches to tackle the subject.
The production took place on one of the Park and Dare’s smaller spaces, creating a more personal feel, audience members were faced with clinical blue lights, a gurney and a medical trolley. We follow the experiences of a few women, their partners and the medical staff who deal with miscarriage and the after effects every day.
We see what happens when the banal aspects of our everyday lives – jobs, planning weddings, going out and meeting friends – all pale into insignificance when we are faced with the limitations and challenges foisted upon us by our own bodies and biology. We take for granted that within us there may be hidden factors at play, completely beyond our control that can cause so much suffering and pain.
Avant have attempted to demystify and shine a light on the hidden heartache of miscarriage. The play shows how we live our lives and our dramas via our phone – obsessing over every pregnancy milestone, reaching out to others, communicating our news and our heartache when pregnancies don’t go to plan – a screen on stage plays out the texts, the internet searches, the statistics we are warned about, the dangers we read about.
How well these vignettes and mini on-screen dramas featuring other characters work with the action on stage, I think is still being worked out as Avant develop and experiment with the script and artistic/presentational elements. The audience were invited at the end to give feedback and help shape the play and speak to the cast and it is really lovely to see this kind of collaboration and inter-mingling with the audience. This is what small venues like the Park and Dare do best.
The on stage cast gave some tender and evocative performances and all had an individual strength about them. The fragility of Rachel Pedley-Millar’s character, the warmth of Yannick Budd playing both a nurse and a father, Darius Nash’s chilling depiction of a clinical practitioner perhaps over-medicalising what is a deeply troubling time for parents.
The stand out scenes for me came via Hannah Lloyd, when her character experienced a traumatic ectopic pregnancy. Those screams I think will haunt my dreams forever. There’s a gripping drawn-out scenario where two doctors are trying to find a vein on one of the women who has been through multiple miscarriages. As Emma Macnab’s character is poked and prodded and patched up with multiple needles (while simultaneously trying to hold it together), it feels almost intrusive to watch.
There is some clever language at play as Doctors use medicalised language and labels to explain a life-changing and devastating situations – the removal of the baby is described as ‘clearing the mass’. We are introduced to the world of hCG levels, Hughes Syndrome and Endometriosis.
All these names will no doubt be familiar to a shocking 1 in 5 women who experience a miscarriage, yet the taboo of silence and mystery all around it is pervasive. While this type of topic may not be everyone’s cup of tea for a night out at the theatre, I’m really pleased to see community theatre companies like Avant not being afraid to tackle difficult subjects and push the boundaries. Killer Cells is a bold and honest look at the reality of miscarriage, I look forward to seeing how the play develops – and I’ll definitely be looking out for their shows in the future.