Unconventionally staged in a pool underneath the Adina Apartment Hotel, 19 Weeks is a powerful one-woman show that brings a taboo topic out into the light with unflinching honesty.
Warned that we’ll get wet before we enter, audience members remove their shoes, nervously ready to cop a splash. Tiffany Lyndall Knight sits at the pool’s corner in a red bathing suit, calmly waiting for the show to begin.
From the outset, most know that this is a show about playwright Emily Steel’s decision to terminate a pregnancy at 19 weeks. It’s a taboo-breaking piece but what few realise is just how powerful this insight into that heart-breaking decision will be. It’s hard to overstate the lasting emotional impact of this moving performance.
Knight floats, swims and sinks in the pool throughout, evocatively conveying the physical and mental agonies of a fraught pregnancy in a relatable and empathy-inspiring manner. With the audience at such close quarters, and out of the normal darkness of a theatre’s auditorium, Knight makes constant eye contact with us, which results in a haunting, comforting and inescapably rich performance.
The process is never taken lightly and the decisions, tests, appointments and procedures leading up to the abortion demonstrate this fact with crushing honesty.
Steel’s script talks through the starkly sterile numbers, ratios and statistics that surround her very human decision. This collision between strong emotions such as love, joy, grief and the immovable odds and medical procedures at hand is a brutal reality. It shows that while this matter might be black or white for some, there are innumerable shades of grey between political talking points.
Alongside Steel’s decision to terminate her pregnancy are the external considerations of this period in her life. From the emotional struggles of her partner, to her two-year-old’s perspective, to dealing with bureaucracy and time-hardened medical professionals, to a reflection on a relative who lived with Friedreich’s ataxia, these insights are frequently painful, sometimes funny and always illuminating.
There is no politics or preaching involved in this honest and raw piece of theatre. Indeed, Knight’s performance of Steel’s story leaves the audience feeling deep empathy for the playwright, and others struggling with their own difficult decisions.
19 Weeks was performed in the basement of Adina Apartment Hotel on March 1, and continues until March 17