Fringe Review: 19 Weeks

Emily Steel was recently awarded the Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award and one can see why in this production; her autobiographical script is flawless. She elucidates every single devastating decision that lead her to the ultimatum, whilst providing audience members with emotional relief with illuminating moments of genuine humour.

By

Presented by Emily Steel
Reviewed 14th March 2018

Through the ornate foyer of the Adina Hotel, down a coiled carpeted staircase, the twenty patrons seeing 19 Weeks gathered in the basement, where, we were told, we should leave all our belongings – including our shoes and socks. From there, we walked through the large, glass doors, and into the long, narrow pool room with a warning that we may get wet.

We sat at one end of the aqua-tiled pool, the front row dangling our feet in the water. The bare-feet was a meaningful touch; the audience are willing to change their core beliefs in a public examination of what it means to be human. On the other side of the pool is Emily, donning a red one-piece bathing suit. Although she is clearly in some sort of distress, she forces a smile at everyone as they enter the room.

You see, Emily is pregnant. It’s true; she took the test in a porta-loo at Writers Week a few years ago. However, after a myriad of doctors appointments, tests and phone calls, Emily is told that her baby has trisomy 21 – Down Syndrome. With the support of her partner Chris, Emily chooses to terminate the baby at 19 weeks. This is her story.

Tiffany Lyndall Knight is mesmerising as Emily, giving one of the most compelling performances this reviewer has seen on any stage in Australia. She (quite literally) submerges herself into the narrative, and puts a face to the controversial moral dilemma. Knight is utterly engaging for the entire 75 minutes, and handles each agonising moment – the various phone calls with the doctors and nurses, the reactions of her two-year-old, and the emails from friends and family overseas  – with authenticity and aplomb. In such an intimate environment, and without the darkness of a usual theatre, Knight is constantly connected with her audience, her frequent eye contact conveying an inescapable sense of responsibility; a duty to listen.

Emily Steel was recently awarded the Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award and one can see why in this production; her autobiographical script is flawless. She elucidates every single devastating decision that lead her to the ultimatum, whilst providing audience members with emotional relief with illuminating moments of genuine humour.

The setting of this play in a pool made it all the more poignant, and Directors Nescha Jelk (2018 touring production) and Daisy Brown (original 2017 production) should be praised for the stylised, amphibious choreography. The relationship between Knight and the water was creative and constantly changing: Knight slides into the pool, floats on top of the water, submerges herself entirely and then claws herself back to the top. She splashes, dives and crashes into it headfirst. In the climactic scene of the abortion, Jelk employed Knight to cover herself in a red bath towel, submerge herself under water, and let the towel go. This imagery, haltingly similar to blood, was outstanding. The only other prop used was a large, blue inflatable lounger, which was attached to the bottom of the pool by a long string reminiscent of an umbilical cord. The pool-toy was unmoored by Knight as she said goodbye to her unborn baby.

The pool was lit evocatively, and the beautifully haunting score by renowned local composer Josh Belperio complemented the action nicely.

I would say rush and secure your tickets, but with only a small capacity each performance, tickets sold out many weeks ago. This show is deserving of any stage, or indeed any pool, around the world.

Reviewed by Ben Francis

Rating out of 5: 5

Venue:  Adina Basement Pool
Season:  Sold Out
Duration:  75 mins
Bookings:  https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/19-weeks-af2018

www.19weeks.com

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