Where and when: Stratford Circus Arts Centre, Theatre Square, London E15 1BX 26, 27 March 7pm
What it’s all about… Vessel is a play about choice, about rebelling and of course about women. I began writing Vessel in 2014 when the idea of Irish women having the right to choice seemed almost impossible. Immediately after the vote on abortion in Ireland I redeveloped it for an Edinburgh run and the ‘Vessel‘ that goes on tour has been redeveloped to not just provoke new conversations or to document that Irish referendum but to ask why we needed a referendum in the first place.
You’ll like it if… Anyone interested in feminist, female led, funny and powerful work, and of course if you like Irish dramas. Vessel is very ‘Irish’ in the sense that it combines humour and drama. The characters are forced to find laughter because their situation is so epic.
You should see it because… Vessel‘s lead character, Maia, starts out on a journey to get abortion after it has been legalised in Ireland but by the end of the play she is forced to ask much more complex questions like why we don’t have equality yet? Who has the power? And who has the right to take it?
Anything else we should know…: I am the great grandniece of soldier and politician Michael Collins, who fought for Ireland’s independence and brokered the peace treaty with the United Kingdom so Ireland and its political structures really inform the show.
I worked with some amazing people on Vessel. Bryony Kimmings who also co-wrote the hit film Last Christmas mentored me with it before the Edinburgh run, the Olivier award winning company Fishamble and award winning playwright Sonya Kelly developed the show with me in the Everyman in Cork.
In the wake of the recent vote in Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment, Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe’s play Vessel explores female empowerment at a very particular moment in history, and asks what happens once that freedom to choose has been won. Following successful preview performances at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London, the two-hander moves to Edinburgh’s Underbelly from 2nd August.
“Vessel is a show about women’s bodies, choice and love. Maia, a receptionist, and David, a journalist, embark on this journey that sees them navigating through a lot of their own personal difficulties to serve a greater purpose,” explains Edward De Gaetano, who plays David. “It’s set in pre-referendum Ireland when abortion is still illegal, and tells the story of Maia, a woman whose tweet about her unwanted pregnancy goes viral and she becomes the focus of public attention during the Repeal the 8th campaign. We see these characters awkwardly trying to get to know each other in the process, which at times can be quite endearing and/or funny!
“It’s a topical story that focuses on the individuals having to make important choices; the aftermath of the referendum that begins to explore a new meaning of choice for women. It celebrates women in many ways as it’s a female writer/performer creating theatre about women for women.”
Laura – a Brighton Fringe Award nominated performer, writer, facilitator, researcher, collaborator and activist – was inspired to write the play by recent events and by the evolving perception of women, not only in Ireland but across the world. “Prior to the recent referendum and until legislation is passed, each day nine Irish women will have boarded a plane to the UK, spent up to €1000 and been considered a criminal in the pursuit of a safe abortion,” she says. “I grew up in an Ireland where we did not talk about abortion, we did not talk about choice. Abortion was something that was talked about in hushed tones behind closed doors and it was always something that the person would regret.
“But something started to change around 2010 – people started talking, marching, campaigning. With the recent referendum there is no better time to tell these stories. Whether it’s the #metoo campaign or #Repealthe8th, we are finally having open and honest conversations about how society views women and the consequences. I wanted to tell this story for all these women and to continue to create platforms for having more of these conversations.
“So much of the theatre I see about women acknowledges and details female struggle and that’s it. Vessel is about exploring what happens after that struggle, what happens to the female character when she has freedom, when she has choice, when she is empowered? As a theatre maker I’m excited by the possibility of female focused narratives, not the retelling of female suffering. For women to keep moving forward socially and artistically we’ve got to start telling and listening to stories of female empowerment.”
Both Laura and Edward are now looking forward to taking the show to Edinburgh and sharing it with new audiences: “Being one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world, we’re excited to perform to such a diverse and international audience,” says Edward. “It’s a place where some of the best artists come to perform, challenge ideas and take a chance at new ideas. The energy and the work is immense and to be a part of that with such a topical play it’s extremely exciting. The Underbelly have been incredible to work with and we simply cannot wait to perform in such a great space being part of such a varied and brilliant programme!
“As with all festivals you really never know who you are going to meet or bump into; actors and performers have had their careers changed to the better after Edinburgh, so it’s really a place where opportunity meets chance.”
It’s also an opportunity to check out and be inspired by other work – and they already have plenty lined up: “Oh yes, there are loads! To start off with the specific shows we cannot wait to see are Fishamble’s Maz and Bricks by Eva O’Connor; Bottom by Will Hudson; Hightide’s Busking It by Danusia Samal; Frieda Loves Ya at Underbelly; everything at Paines Plough Roundabout; anything by Big in Belgium and Canada Hub; Woman of the Year by Anna Nicholson and In Their Footsteps by Ashley Adelman and Kelly Teaford. We both love comedy, well who doesn’t, so we will definitely be checking out some stand-up comedy gigs and whatever else comes our way – we can’t wait to be inspired by what we see!”