Aug 4 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆   Promising*

Just the Tonic at the Caves (Venue 88): Thurs 3 – Sat 26 Aug 2023
Review by Torya Hughes
*Show seen in preview (see note below).

Edinburgh based theatre collective The Counterminers explore female reproductive rights in Hersterectomy, their new devised piece, performing somewhat appropriately in a venue that is reminiscent of a womb.

Hersterectomy follows the story of Carmel, a single childless lesbian with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Researching cures on Reddit, she comes across someone recommending hysterectomy, and decides to visit her doctor to ask for the surgery.

However, when the doctor starts asking questions, Carmel somehow ends up taking on the role of a married mum of two, with a cockapoo called Nigel. She enlists her friend (an energetic Max Nyman) to help her create this family and convince her doctor that she no longer needs her womb, with amusing consequences.

Hersterectomy promotion shot

The show opens with a quick run down of reproductive health through the ages, starting in the “olden days” when anything out of the ordinary marked you down as a witch. We see the contraceptive pill being prescribed with very little regard for the risks or side effects, and there’s a cleverly choreographed and humorous scene where Carmel scrolls through the weird and wonderful suggestions of Reddit users.

This opening promises to introduce a piece of theatre that will challenge attitudes to contraception and reproduction, but the story takes a turn into light comedy instead. It’s very enjoyable, if rather surreal at times, but it feels a little disappointing and lacks some depth.

Ruby Loftus stands out in the lead role, with a knack for comic timing and an excellent range of exasperated facial expressions. She creates a likeable character, however we get very little sense of how her PCOS affects her life and what has driven her to look for surgery.

heavy cash flow

Carmel’s patronising boss, played by Huw Turnbull, seems to care more about a heavy cash flow than her menstrual problems, while her workmates are clearly more interested in their own gossip. Leonardo Shaw and Florence Carr-Jones are perfectly irritating as chatty colleagues Wade and Sandra. Once Carmel forms her imaginary family, Aaron de Verés is enormously likeable as the rather hapless Jack, while Greta Abbey almost steals the show as wannabe actress Jane.

Georgia Gabrielides portrays the doctor as a career woman who’s struggling with parenthood, bringing a touching level of emotion to the role. This would have been interesting to explore further, as it is only briefly touched upon. Orly Benn, Hollie Avery and Emer Williams complete a strong ensemble, with Avery in particular showing off a flair for both comedy and accents.

“….a venue that is reminiscent of a womb.”

There’s a lot of surreal humour in the piece, from a talking uterus to a singing ovary, complete with shiny pink wig. Some moments have varied success – a chorus line has great visual impact, whereas a song becomes messy when some of the performers hand round a microphone whilst others sing unaccompanied.

Lilli Steffens’ set design is sparse but effective, and the company embrace the humour in using low budget props – the pitchfork wielding villagers with plastic forks is particularly effective. The pink drapes on the venue ceiling tie in well with the uterine theme, aided by rosy hued lighting from Freya Game.

a lot of promise

Martha Barrow’s sound adds nicely to the piece, but the balance needs some work – the cast are sometimes drowned out by music. An enormous fan at the back of the room makes it hard to hear at times, and some cast members could work on their volume.

Overall this is a piece with a lot of promise, but a lack of direction in the writing. It works very well as a comedy with some great one-liners and wacky humour, but the opening scene and the synopsis suggests something with a bit more depth and bite. This is an enjoyable hour with a lot of laughs – but which also has the potential to be so much more.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Just the Tonic at The Caves, Rowantree Bar, Niddry St. South, EH1 1LG (Venue 88)
Thurs 3 – Sun 13 Aug (odd dates), Wed 16 – Sat 26 Aug (even dates)
Evenings: 6.10pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

NB: Our critic inadvertently attended the preview performance of the show, after being given a press ticket by the venue, not the company.
The company has asked us to point this out. They also suppled the following statement: “Multiple fixes including adding additional microphones, fixing balance, and editing soundscapes are also happening before opening.”

Counterminers links
Twitter: @counterminers
Facebook: @TheCounterminers
Instagram: @counterminers
Website: https://counterminers.co.uk


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