Blanket Ban at Underbelly Cowgate – Edinburgh Fringe Review
The Chalk Line Theatre production runs until 28 August
One of the difficulties in trying to have conversations about abortion, trying to win over anti-abortion campaigners or believers, is the impossibility of even talking in the same register. As with any debate across political boundaries, you can't catch a right-wing opposition out with logical fallacies in their points. One can't argue that what is actually "pro-life" is to address inequality in parenting, the costs of childcare, feeding and housing, not to mention the systemic inequities that place the lives of some children above others.
For me, the thing about Blanket Ban that allows it to move beyond being a play about an important issue into a play that is important to see is its recognition of this difficulty, and of the fact that where theatre can be significant in political battles is by letting audiences feel, rather than focussing on making them intellectualise. As writer-performers, Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella know (and point out) this is too important an issue to have anything but a rallying cry around it.
Feeling is central to the piece as a whole, and is key in the way that it maintains theatricality even while presenting the audience with so much information. Blanket Ban is not interested only in showing how Malta's abortion ban affects individuals and the country at large, but also in creating a space in which Hamilton and Vella can explore their complicated feelings towards Malta as a whole, as expats looking at it from the UK. They tease these reactions out in a few different ways, which move from the slightly obvious (bringing an anti-abortion troll and their fake science to life) to the strange and mythic (turning the ocean that surrounds Malta into an ever-watching mother) all of which are beautifully designed and realised.
Much of the play is also spent showing and retelling the real stories of people who've been affected by the abortion ban in Malta, and Chalk Line Theatre's production also works through these well, moving between re-enacting, video projection, and simple storytelling. These different strands are well-balanced and the techniques used are solid choices, although there's definitely room for more innovation.
But this is a production that recognises that its own greatest strength, when convincing its audience to take the abortion blanket ban seriously, is in telling these stories in the clearest possible way. It seems impossible to leave Blanket Ban without a sense of the great peril of the lack of abortion access in Malta – and of course, across the western world – and also the inspiring work and care that activists and individuals are doing there to combat it.