Part of Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene + Heard festival, The WIN is a newly devised piece from rookie theatre company BANBHA. Directed by Cara Brophy-Browne and Tara Louise Morrison, The WIN is a concise and thoughtfully put together narrative focusing around stories from the Women’s Information Network (WIN) – a secret support line for Irish women needing abortions in the late eighties and early nineties.
Told through the experience of a nameless schoolgirl, the play uses original documents and recordings from the time to tell the network’s story and protest Ireland’s current abortion laws. The use of the schoolgirl’s inter-cert subjects as a premise to exemplify the treatment of Irish women resonates with every woman’s fear of an unwanted and unprepared for pregnancy.
However, although the basis of The WIN focuses on youth, the play is incredibly inclusive, expounding the idea that the need for abortion is relevant to the young girl, the older woman, the mother, and the trans man among others.
Part narrative, part physical theatre, the choreography of The WIN is as central to its power as the real life testimonies of the women involved with the network. Reminiscent of choruses found in Greek tragedies, the cast’s movement is an impressive visual tool that is used to both draw the eye and highlight the raw emotions of both the actor and her character, creating an immersive perspective of this “impossible situation.”
Despite the gravity of The WIN’s subject matter, the cast who devised the piece did not shy away from a peppering of humour. In the second half of the play, the silent, symbolic schoolgirl played by Laoise Murray comes crashing into the audience – a walking, talking, even shouting example of the need for abortion rights in Ireland.
From Murray’s gruff “out the way, pregnant lady coming through” to the cast giving the unified finger to the powers that be, it is clear that although The WIN is centred around the work of The Women’s Information Network, the cast couldn’t help but add in some of their own feelings surrounding the Eighth Amendment issue.
The result is a play that is not only demonstrative of the lengths women will go to to maintain their bodily autonomy, but of the pervading feeling amongst Irish women today.
In fact the Irishness of the problem is never left far from the audience’s mind. Under the premise of the schoolgirl’s inter-cert subjects, the English definitions of Irish words are spelled out in a way that shows just how ingrained the identity of the mother as a vessel is in Irish society. The Gaelic for “pregnant” equates to “carrying family”, for “abortion” – “foetus destroyer”.
The WIN is a testament, not only to the talent of young Irish people, but to their concern about themselves, their fellow women, and their country. Although the dialogue became slippery in parts — owed to opening night jitters — the play gives an all-encompassing narrative illustrating the need for full bodily autonomy for women in Ireland.
The WIN played at the Smock Alley Theatre from 18-19 February 2016 and was back by popular demand from 3-4 March.
The play will be returning to Dublin from 10-11 June as part of ROSA‘s Bread & Roses Festival 2016.
By Iona Shearer and Shane Devereux