If you’re a woman with the BRCA1 gene, you have a 40% chance of developing ovarian cancer, and an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. Olivia Hirst is a playwright and actor. She has the BRCA1 gene and a family tree peppered with ancestors and family members who died from these cancers. Among those are her aunt, and her grandmother Elizabeth who survived a cancer diagnosis. Being a performing artist, Olivia wrote an autobiographical play about having BRCA1. Lost Watch’s Goodstock affectionately presents the major, real-life decisions she must make with humour, frankness and music.
An episodic structure frames the stories of numerous characters, with a particular focus on Olivia and her family. Illona Linthwaite plays her spunky and caring grandmother, Rianna Dearden plays Olivia’s parents, several doctors and Olivia’s aunt, as well as a host of musical instruments during scene transitions. Olivia plays herself. The cast of three clearly demonstrates great conviction in their story, endowing each character with charm and honesty. They often employ direct address, creating a relaxed, conversational environment. Olivia’s script cleverly utilizes levity, storytelling and meta-theatre to contrast quite a lot of science and grief, creating a well-balanced production. It could easily tend towards sentimentality, indulgence or preaching, but instead manages to be both informative and heartwarming.
One of Olivia’s decisions is what kind of preventative surgery to have. Medicine recommends breast removal by age 30, and the ovaries by age 35. Olivia is 26. She’s also recently single and faces the consequential decision of how to deal with becoming infertile. But, does she risk passing down this gene to her children if she can’t afford embryonic screening? It’s a lot for a 20-something to deal with, and her inner conflicts move the audience to tears.
There’s a lot packed into this gem of an hour-long play, but the only unclear aspect is what Hirst and the company want the audience to take away. It is a celebration of life, and raises awareness of what life is like for young women who know they have the BRCA1 gene, but this microcosmic biography doesn’t convey one particular message. Regardless of this, it is a wonderful piece of theatre with skilled performances and a distinctive writing style that is a vital contribution to this year’s Fringe.
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