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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A beautifully poetic, poignant piece of theatre told by one of our brightest new storytellers.

At just 23, drama school graduate Rosa Hesmondhalgh was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and as she pours her heart out in front of a sellout audience in the Pleasance Dome, the result is a beautifully poetic, poignant piece of theatre told by one of this country's brightest new storytellers.

Madame Ovary begins at the start of 2018 as Rosa sets herself some new year's resolutions which include wanting to take better care of her body and make really good art.

Feeling bloated and exhausted, Rosa puts this down to the amount she ate and drank during Christmas and New Year, but as it persists she starts to think she might have IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) but as the pain got so bad, she was taken to hospital and not long after she was given the ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Herself part of the second-screen generation, Rosa uses a screen on stage as an effective device throughout the piece, batting away Tinder notifications and reminders of her new year's resolutions and as a visually powerful representation of her Goggle searches from when she thought she had IBS.

The screen is also used as a device to let the audience know what the nurse is asking Rosa so that her responses make sense. Questions like "Are you sexually active?" - which Rosa tells us is something she's never quite known how to answer.

The dialogue is nuanced with no word wasted, chosen for the way it sounds and how it sits around the other words in that sentence, making the whole piece flow beautifully with a definite poetic quality that's a result of Rosa's love of poetry and language.

But sometimes words can't tell a story in the same way that movement can and Rosa's not afraid to break the dialogue for dance breaks which evoke even stronger emotions in both the performer and the audience members.

Rosa didn't know what story to tell but she recognised that it's always important to tell your story and knew she wanted to make really great art - both of which she has more than achieved with Madame Ovary. Through her use of dialogue, movement and audiovisual, Rosa makes us feel like we were there with her on her journey.

A moving final few moments where photographs and videos of her friends and family by her bedside are shown on the screen serve as a reminder that this is a real story, told beautifully with honesty and truth.

Sometimes a piece of theatre moves you in ways words can't really explain and that was very much the case here as I found myself moved to genuine streams of tears during the latter half of the show.

I truly believe that Madame Ovary is a necessary hour of theatre which I hope transfers to other parts of the UK. Rosa's voice is original, authentic and one that needs to be heard. And as she starts building a new normal from scratch, it would be a shame if Edinburgh is where her story starts and ends.

Madame Ovary runs until 26th August at 12.10pm at the Pleasance Dome (JackDome). Book tickets here.


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