Review: Madame Ovary at Pleasance Dome

In early 2018 Rosa Hesmondhalgh, niece of former Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, was 23. Her new year’s resolutions were to take better care of her body and of her career. This was, she vowed, “my year.” A struggling actor and writer, Rosa was looking for a story to tell. But the story was already growing inside her in the form of a cancerous tumour on her ovary. It was spreading, too.

The irony is not lost on Hesmondhalgh in this deceptively bright and breezy one woman show about nearly losing your life and in the process finding out who you are and what really matters.

The old Rosa had dreams of writing a show for Edinburgh that would be as successful as Fleabag and which would launch her career. But try as she may, she couldn’t finish anything, not even a haiku. It’s only when she was almost finished off by cancer that she finds her own voice. Madame Ovary may not be the next Fleabag, but it has a quiet grace and feels true in a wider sense, not just because it is telling a real-life story.

This is a show that comes straight from the heart. Performed without props before a screen on which images and words are projected, sometimes like subliminal messages, this is 60 minutes with no side or pretensions. Hesmondhalgh is engagingly direct and demonstrates neat comic timing as she tells of how one minute she is worrying about her bloated stomach and whether she will fit into her jeans for a Tinder date, and how the next she is being diagnosed in A&E. “This is the most action I’ve had in months,” she jokes as an internal ultrasound is administered before life dissolves into a haze of morphine and the endless waiting that accompanies serious illness.

It’s a peon to the patience that the patient must learn, the efficiencies and irritations of the NHS, the kindness of strangers and about the importance of friends who bring the outside world into the sick room, “not talking about my illness even though it is all around us.”

But Hesmondhalgh knows that we must talk about Ovarian cancer and the symptoms that can make so hard to diagnose. Madame Ovary is a show about learning how to really live and that also means sharing the fears and information that may stop other women from dying.

Madame Ovary, Pleasance Dome, 31st Jul – 26th Aug, 12.10pm

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