Since all my Fringe reviews are taken from Amnesty’s Freedom of Expression Award long-list, I observed Egg (and to a lesser extent, Rainbow Baby) wondering how the show’s themes matched those of Amnesty International. The ‘right to bear children’ is a curious notion in an over-populated world. Yet with IVF-treatment still in relative infancy (excuse the pun) the last forty years have thrown up many ethical questions.
This show, while very informative, is careful not to hammer answers home. Rather, we are shown a highly physical and emotional story of egg donation; a journey, we’re told, that starts in the womb. And this is where the show begins: the performer is suspended, naked, foetal-posed, in a polythene bag of water as the audience take their seats in the appropriately clinical Observation Room at Summerhall.
In dimmed light, and with an eerie musical backdrop provided by her co-performer, Balázs Hermann, Sarah Bebe Holmes begins to wriggle in her transparent womb until a hole allows, first, water to gush out and, next, a fully-formed adult woman. She is literally laid bare, and this spirit of honesty pervades the piece in a way that shows this is a very personal story.
Dressing without fuss or embarrassment, Holmes assumes the first of three characters: Carol, whose attempts to become pregnant have failed. “What does it take to make a baby?” she asks – a question repeated at the end of the show. Perhaps the best answer of those given is ‘love’ – although this is stretched to great limits when Carol asks her young friend, Sarah, for her eggs.
Changing her shoes from simple heels to (equally shiny) black Doc Martens, Holmes depicts the younger woman with great energy. While this is ‘theatre’ it is also ‘circus,’ and Holmes’ aerial performances give physical vibrancy and metaphorical agency. The transparent plastic ropes that ‘Sarah’ flings herself around and up and down are like umbilical cords; later they become the medical apparatus administering Sarah’s anaesthetic.
Another change of shoes (again, the metaphor is empathy) and a clear plastic lab-coat gives us another character: the medic who explains in slightly comical tones the ‘science bit’ with the aid of a Perspex clipboard. Likewise, Hermann plays Carol’s partner, Pat, and with a change of shoes and – again – transparent operating-theatre scrubs she becomes the surgeon who ties plastic wrapping around her ankles and elbows.
In another gravity-defying aerial performance, we see the emotional and physical turmoil the woman goes through, as she writhes in the air while images are projected onto the back wall.
Throughout, Hermann provides a rich soundscape using live, looped, and pre-recorded sounds with just an electric bass and acoustic Double Bass. At one point, the female-shape of that instrument lends itself perfectly to a holographic depiction of the reproductive system projected on its back. This production is a feast for the senses, with moments of humour as well as heart-felt emotion.
As for its place on the Amnesty long-list, themes of choice, chance, science, and family, along with issues of societal judgment of women make it a strong contender for a freedom of expression award. What’s more, with so few flaws this piece is worthy of the International Festival. One to look out for.