Interview: Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe and Edward De Gaetano, Vessel

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 by Laura Wyatt O'Keeffe
Photo credit: Emma Micallef

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!”

Vessel is at Underbelly Bristo Square from 2nd-27th August at 1.05pm.