Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Written and performed by Rosa Hesmondhalgh, Madame Ovary tells the story of a year in the life of a 20-something creative. A year that involves resolutions to do more yoga and make more art; to spend less time with plonkers met on dating apps; perhaps to watch more episodes of Louis Theroux documentaries. And… a year in which she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
From the Wildchild Productions stable, this is a carefully crafted piece of storytelling that never loses its heart, maintaining just the right balance of raw honesty and artistic expression.
Adam Small’s direction keeps the momentum going with careful pace through the story’s ups and downs. There are laughs as well as tears.
Some of the descriptions are pretty graphic, and in the relaxed performance I attended, a couple of people had to step out.
But Hesmondhalgh is clearly a poet, spinning beautiful turns of phrase, even when telling us about the clinical detail of her care. There are sequences that carry a strong imprint of spoken word delivery.
What lifts Madame Ovary from a powerful story to something deeply moving is Hesmondhalgh’s warmth of connection. Even through the darkest parts of her story, we somehow feel held by her. We are touched by the tales of the friends who came to her side (and by Louis Theroux as well!). We are saddened by the loss of a fellow cancer patient.
At the end of the show, many of the audience are crying. On way out there is a lot of hugging – both of friends and of strangers. Hesmondhalgh’s story itself touches us, but perhaps even more than this, it makes us think about our own loved ones. There is celebration and joy scattered throughout this tale of pain and loss, and isn’t that messy mix what life is all about?
Madame Ovary is at Pleasance Dome at 12.10 until 26 August.