You know a play that contains the line “a veritable snake-pit of cock” is going to be a riot, and A Womb of One’s Own is certainly not for the shy – there a quite a few convincingly simulated orgasms on stage, as well as frank discussions about, and again convincing simulations of, masturbation. This is a bold and funny play exploring burgeoning female sexuality in all its power and madness, yet this production also confronts the writhingly fraught topic of abortion. For the most part, this is done in a responsible and honest fashion as we track through Babygirl’s journey from realisation of pregnancy to the aftermath of her choice. There were moments, however, that felt as though they tipped over into self-indulgent melodrama that didn’t quite sit comfortably on the small, intimate stage of The King’s Head Theatre – howling cries for an absent mother felt slightly forced, as if we had slipped through a genre wormhole and fallen from modern, snappy drama to wallowing Greek Tragedy. We managed to stay on the right line of farcical at this moment, but only just.
Other than this, I adored this production for its feminist credentials and its smart staging. Four actresses – Claire Rammelkamp, also the writer, Danica Corns, Olivia Early and Carla Garratt – play the role of Babygirl in a wonderful splitting of the personality. There is some gorgeous choreography, with the actors speaking and moving in unison with the precision of clockwork soldiers, which contrast strikingly with more diffuse moments: one Babygirl begins to cry with anxiety after losing her virginity, prompting another to tell her brusquely to stop. It is a wonderful and very evocative expression of the complexity of human emotion and response, particularly when focused around sexual experiences. Although Rammelkamp, as author, takes the role of lead Babygirl and shoulders most of the verbal narrative, the other actors are all extremely strong and no-one fades into the background, with all actors showing physical and vocal skill as they multi-role through the story. The one character that seem slightly cipher-ous is unfortunately central to the narrative – Babygirl’s first, consistent lover. Whether this is in the writing or the delivery is hard to say, and this character certainly becomes more real in the scenes with Babygirl – there is some very touching slow-dancing as the relationship blooms – but our first introduction felt a little wooden.
All the transitions, costume changes and character switches are incredibly slick, and the simple set of single bed needs no elaboration, functioning perfectly for all scenes. The time absolutely flew by in this piece, and I found myself agreeing vehemently with the call for greater education on the topic of abortion. In its own way, this play opens up a very secretive topic: one filled with a huge amount of guilt and shame and incomprehension. There needs to be more education, so that women and men can understand the science and the psychology of what it means to have a termination. There needs to be more research, into better methods of contraception for men and women, into the process of terminations themselves. There needs to be more respect for the women. There needs to be more understanding of the gravity of the choice and of the gravity of the importance of having a choice which releases women from the singular entrapment of a female body.
There needs to be more stories like Babygirl’s, told without fear and without humiliation.