Cotton Fingers Review
‘You’ll have to go to England’ Aoife is told from the other end of the phone before she hangs up in distress. A familiar statement to the women of Northern Ireland who are in need of abortion care.
Set in Belfast, Cotton Fingers tells the story of a young woman’s journey to Wales to access free NHS abortion care. Aoife, from west Belfast, boards her first ever flight - alone - in order to access healthcare not available to her at home. This brilliantly funny and deeply moving show takes the audience on Aoife’ journey, not only to Wales but though her family life, her ambitions, her shame and guilt, her want for more and how she came to end up on her own with a frizzy haired Welsh nurse assisting her through an abortion.
Amy Molloy is outstanding as Aoife, as she brings to life Rachel Trezise’s razor sharpe writing - filled with hilarious local colloquialisms and deeply painful monologues, Amy navigates it perfectly. Expertly directed by Julia Thomas, the audience is taken through Aoife’s life in Belfast; the council estate she is from, the Omniplex she works at, and all the people that inhabit it. Through her story we learn of the guilt she feels in wanting more from life, the Catholic influence that looms over of her decision, the financial struggle that makes the choice even harder, and a complicated family history she desperately does not want to repeat. With humour and raw emotion we see the weight of the society in which Aoife was raised cause her to question her own bodily autonomy. We see her weeping alone in a hospital room in Wales wishing things could be different, wishing she could call her Mum.
The show concludes with Aoife and her Mum watching as the Eight Amendment is repealed in the Republic of Ireland, a moment of hope quickly dashed by Aoife’s mum’s cynicism. Aoife wonders if maybe her Mum is right to be cynical, maybe we are ‘second class citizens’, maybe something (like Brexit) with take away momentum and leave the North behind once again. But in Aoife’s journey there is hope nonetheless, hope that a girl from a council estate in west Belfast can want for more, that she can break the cycle of familial shame, that she can declare herself a Women’s Rights activist - one that uses her story not to inflict shame upon herself but instead to declare that the North must be next. As Aoife made this closing declaration of activism the audience (myself absolutely included) rose to their feet in applause, many of us with tears in our eyes as we all know (or have been) someone like Aoife.
Cotton Fingers captures a poignant story in such a real and raw way it felt like a bittersweet triumph at the end - rejoicing in Aoife’s journey but reminded that this is still a very real struggle and present in Northern Ireland (and beyond).
Cotton Fingers was originally performed in west Wales in venues close to the port town of Fishguard, where Irish ferries dock. It was one of five monologues or Love Letters to the National Health Service that formed part of National Theatre Wale’s NHS70 Festival, celebrating the Service’s 70th birthday.
Announcing the tour, National Theatre Wales’ Artistic Director, Kully Thiarai said: “We are very excited to be making our debut across the Irish Sea, bringing this funny, poignant but important production to audiences in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Marking a year since the historic referendum, Cotton Fingers highlights the stark differences between women's rights on either side of the border. It’s a fantastic work of snappy Welsh writing, made by an extraordinary trio of talented women.”
Amy Molloy is a stage and screen actor from Belfast. Recent stage credits include the critically acclaimed Abbey Theatre and Royal Court production of Cyprus Avenue,starring alongside Stephen Rea in Dublin, London, Belfast and New York (2016-2019); ELIZA’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley by Pan Pan Theatre at Dublin Theatre Festival (2018) and the UK & Irish tour of the 20th Anniversary of Enda Walsh’s breakthrough, multi-award-winning play, Disco Pigs (2015-2016). Screen credits include the hugely popular BBC TV dramas The Fall and Call the Midwife (BBC) and the critically acclaimed, Troubles-set thriller ’71 (Warp Films).
Rachel Trezise is an award-winning writer, born in Rhondda in south Wales, where she still lives. She studied at Glamorgan (Wales) and Limerick (Ireland) Universities. Rachel was voted New Face of Literature (2003) by Harpers & Queen magazine. Literature credits include the Dylan Thomas Prize for Fresh Apples (2006) and the Orange Futures List for In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl (2002). Cotton Fingers is the third play produced by National Theatre Wales.
National Theatre Wales is a multi-award-winning theatre company that has been making English-language productions in locations all over Wales, the UK, internationally and online since March 2010.
Written by Rachel Trezise
Directed by Julia Thomas
MAC, Belfast May 22, 23
Tickets here https://themaclive.com/event/cotton-fingers/
Playhouse, Derry May 24, 25
Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin May 29-31
Tickets here https://beckett-theatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873604620
Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray June 1