Back to script after Repeal

A woman’s right to choose and how motherhood is viewed in Ireland are the themes of a play by a Cork-born actress and writer, a great grand niece of Michael Collins, at Edinburgh Fringe festival this month, writes Colette Sheridan
Back to script after Repeal
Laura Wyatt O'Keeffe.

CORK-BORN writer, actor and pro-choice activist, Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe, will star in her self-penned play, Vessel, which is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Laura, who divides her time between London and Malta (where her mother has been living for a couple of years), wanted to create a show that talks about a woman’s right to choose and how motherhood is viewed in Ireland, among other themes.

Thirty-year old Laura started writing Vessel in 2014.

“Then, last year, with more and more talk about the Repeal the 8th referendum, I went back to the script but it wasn’t relevant anymore. The world has really evolved in terms of how we talk about women’s bodies. I kind of threw my script out and started from a blank page again.

“I had grown as an artist and had grown as a result of the #MeToo movement. Different questions need to be asked.”

The play takes place in the waiting room of a UK abortion clinic.

“There’s a moment in the play, about three- quarters through it, when the referendum happens. We now need to ask other questions, now that abortion is legal in Ireland: What kind of conversations can we have now? Do we feel the same about a woman’s right to choose? How do we value women? Do we value them according to their fertility?

“In the repeal the 8th campaign, there was a huge emphasis on fatal foetal anomalies and rape cases. I think the ‘yes’ campaign shied away from having a conversation about a woman who becomes pregnant and doesn’t want the baby. It’s not because of rape or a fatal foetal case. I understand that’s much more complicated. How do we feel about this? I’m pro-choice because of cases like that. I can’t make a decision for a woman in that situation. So I have to let them make that choice. I don’t know what I’d do in that situation.”

Laura wrote the final draft of the play after the referendum result. The play involves a woman who works as a receptionist in a refugee support centre in Ireland. A teenage refugee, who became pregnant as a result of rape, has taken her own life. A journalist is covering the story. It turns out that the pregnant girl wanted an abortion but she lived in Ireland where, up until the last part of the play, abortion was illegal.

The question of guardianship complicates matters further.

“Who is the girl’s guardian?” asks Laura, who admits that she cried when she heard that the referendum passed.

“I was really overwhelmed. For as long as I remember and for as long as I’ve been political, I have been really pro-choice. Everyone was saying the referendum result was going to be very close. I just felt really proud that there was such a strong ‘yes’ vote. it was incredible how brave people were, sharing their stories.”

Laura couldn’t vote as she has been living away from Ireland for ten years. She left the country initially to live in Australia. A niece of director/writer, Marian Wyatt, Laura says her aunt “has been a huge influence”.

“I started drama classes with Marian when I was three or four. I was in a play that she put on in the Cork Arts Theatre before going to the Everyman. I did as many drama classes as I could. I knew I wanted to be an actor.”

At UCC, Laura did drama and theatre studies. When she returned from a year away in Australia, she undertook a diploma in drama and communications while saving to do a Masters’s degree.

The original version of Vessel was work-shopped at the TDC (Theatre Development Centre) at Triskel.

“I’m interested in day-to-day relationships that come to a point where one person wants to have children and the other doesn’t. In that situation, the relationship probably won’t go forward. People want different things.”

Laura says it’s an issue that she is becoming more and more aware of.

“There’s the idea of having children and having a legacy. Sometimes, I feel I would definitely like to have a child. Other times, I think not. It’s not easy to think about it logically. It can be just something that happens.”

Laura considers herself lucky “to grow up in the environment and family I have where having children (or not) is very much an active decision.”

For Laura, a great grandniece of Michael Collins, politics is in the blood, as well as drama.

“I went to London to be an actor. I’m getting busier all the time. I’ve just done a residency with the Barbican which was great. It was for a piece called Hedonist which will be produced in 2019. It uses poetry and performance to explore narratives around sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Most of my work is about women.”

Asked if she’ll be bringing Vessel to Cork, Laura is “hopeful but nothing has been confirmed”.

She was in Cork for the Midsummer Festival where she took part in a workshop with Fishamble theatre company at the Everyman.

“The Everyman is where all my first experiences of acting happened. It was so amazing to be back for the festival.

“The Midsummer Festival felt rebellious, talking about things that have never been talked about in Ireland before.

“There’s such an amazing energy in Ireland at the moment. I’d love to work more in Ireland. But I want to make work in different places,” says this adventurous writer and performer.

Vessel is at the Underbelly until August 27 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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