Those who were around for the Fringe of 2022 may recognise some of the cast and crew of this year’s The Counterminers’ production Hersterectomy from their performance of Cheeky Girls. This time, old faces are joined by new ones for an incredibly clever, funny, and feel-good spin on the very real issue of reproductive health and bodily autonomy.
Firstly, I have to say that the most impressive thing about this production is the way that it delicately handles such a difficult and weighted topic. Ruby Loftus plays the central performance, Carmel, a lesbian who has been struggling profusely with polycystic ovary syndrome for a long time. She reads online that a hysterectomy might put an end to her pain and requests this from her doctor, only to find that the path to getting one might not be as easy as she first thought (or as it should be).
The cast had the whole audience laughing from the beginning, with the women exchanging knowing glances as Huw Turnbull poses as a humanised pop-star version of the contraceptive pill. Orly Benn comically walks us through the history of the contraceptive pill in TV-presenter style, playing cleverly chosen ‘top hits’ such as ‘Come together’ and ‘I’m every woman’, while Flo Carr-Jones hilariously embodies doctors throughout the ages, throwing out the pill as an answer to every health problem experienced by women, from acne, to cramps, to cheesy-smelling vaginas.
With remarkable care and exceptional wit, Hersterectomy shines a light on a misunderstood and misrepresented issue while remaining engaging and enjoyable for people of all genders and experiences. Loftus’ performance of Carmel provokes real empathy for the lead character and compassion towards her circumstances — she leaves the whole audience rooting for a way to end her pain and cure her PCOS.
In fact, the whole cast performance was exceptional. From the synchronised dance scenes on the London tube which symbolise Carmel’s newfound lease of life, to the hilarious and relatable interactions in the office, to the effortless transition from work-meeting to reddit-forum scene, the energy and chemistry between the actors really brought the whole production to life.
Every little detail on the small stage was accounted for, special thanks to Set Designer Lilli Steffens. In the office scenes whiteboards displayed mind-maps of PCOS, during dinner the nuclear-family-symbol of the SMEG fridge is red, as is the back wall and tablecloth, and the cast adorn red and pink attire throughout the whole production, a consistent nod to menstruation that pulled together the entire set, characters, and timeframes.
And just because it needs its own mention: the humour was astounding. It’s rare to watch a play that makes you laugh the entire way through, but this really deserved it. Although some scenes felt a bit thrown in, particularly the subplot of the band fallout, the perfectly executed puns and actors’ effortless comedic charm carried them through.
Overall, the only thing I wished was that it was longer. It is natural to want a perfectly rounded, positive conclusion for Carmel after the efforts she has gone through to get it. But the production ends gently, the perfect blend of realism and optimism.
The entire production does justice to the many people experiencing reproductive health issues and the frustrating reality of what that means. It is an incredibly clever, funny, and entertaining, yet raw and honest exploration of a very important, underdiscussed topic, and it was done wonderfully.