by Laura Kressly
Rosa’s been bloated and uncomfortable for about week, but she’s sure it’s nothing. She just needs to find some clothes that hide it, and are also suitable for a first date. A week after that, convinced the pain is something she’s eaten or trapped wind, she’s diagnosed with cancer. It’s 1 April 2018. She’s only 23 years old. Despite her hopes for it to be the year she sorts her life out, the reality is much more stark and scary.
The resolutions she made in January – to look after herself, get her priorities straight, and make some great art – are pushed to the side. Their places are taken up by handfuls of pills, surgeries, and chemotherapy. There are days where she can’t keep her eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, and the dream of being a successful actor and poet seem totally out of reach.
Yet in this solo performance, there’s no hint of the exhaustion and treatment Rosa Hesmondhalgh endured during her treatment. Relayed with unapologetic and celebratory vivacity directly to the audience, there is a heavy dose of humour and love throughout, effectively balancing the fear and despair that underpin her cancer experience. She also doesn’t shy away from bodily functions and her relationship with them, but neither are her descriptions particularly graphic. Ultimately though, this is a poignant story of hope epitomised by her presence in this space, narrating her journey from diagnosis to remission.
However, It’s clear she glosses over huge sections of time, and there’s plenty of room within the narrative to add more detail, ups and downs. Though one-person shows are difficult to sustain for much more than an hour, she certainly leaves the audience wanting more. Hesmondhalgh’s energy is utterly infectious and her story equally so. Sobering and joyful, the only issue is that it ends too soon.
Madame Ovary runs through 23 February.
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