Madame Ovary review at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh – ‘intriguing, energetically delivered show about cancer’
No one expects a cancer diagnosis aged 23. In 2018 Rosa Hesmondhalgh developed a sudden, painful, bloated belly. The star and writer of Madame Ovary gives up a promising second date for a day of medical tests to figure out what’s wrong. She quickly finds herself in a deluge of medical babble and urgent chemotherapy treatment for a cancerous growth in her abdomen.
With energetic, comedic delivery, Hesmondhalgh guides us through her overwhelming cancer diagnosis and treatment, layering her mostly familiar show with mildly effective text projections and voiceover, and finely punctuated dance movement for unspeakable moments.
Late in the show Hesmondhalgh introduces a fascinating tension between her cancer “all clear” status and her “new normal”. She recognizes the desire in narratives to wrap things up neatly, but her life does not work this way. She has PTSD and even though her treatment has stopped, cancer has an ongoing impact. But just as she starts to upend expectations, she abandons the topic leaving this interesting untidiness unexplored.
She returns to some unfortunate rhyming poetry and the show ends with an upbeat music video-style inspirational photo slideshow that sentimentalizes what has been otherwise honest and sincere.
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