Agatha (Pleasance, Downstairs)

Rehomed from this year’s Vault Festival, this interesting hour of gig theatre focuses on topics such as grief and abortion in a fresh and engaging style.

A three-hander (Agatha, Rose, and Jo), Agatha is multi-generational and full of moments where women connect. Agatha may have passed away, but she’s still answering questions and giving advice.

Gemma Barnett both writes the play and appears as Jo, a young woman drawn to poetry, and on the cusp of a life-changing decision. She’s nervous, slight, unsure.

Gemma Barnett in Agatha

Her mum, Rose (Susanna Hamilton) is  more brash, but scratch her exterior and there are wounds back to childhood. Grandma Agatha (Olivia Carruthers) is a woman with a tale to tell, and a mission to tell it.

Dressed up for her death show – complete with piped in applause and laughter – Agatha comes to life through the diary she made when pregnant with Rose and feeling unable to cope.

We meet characters from that time – grandad Bertie, doctors – to give a parallel story which matches Jo’s contemporary dilemma. Theatre within theatre.

Suzanna Hamilton and Olivia Carruthers in Agatha

Early on, Jo clutches a pro-life leaflet she’s been given by “Jesus and his friends”, reducing her body and choice to the fate of the just-growing foetus inside.

Agatha, in the years before legal abortion, had less room to decide. A psychiatric opinion on her state of mind would bring safety; a backroom table potential death.

Martha Geelan’s direction and dramaturgy helps the narrative take shape. In Jo’s distressed state, memory and motherhood are at the fore and help her make the decision that is right for her.

Olivia Carruthers and Gemma Barnett in Agatha

The ladies of Agatha all use drinking as a crutch, and there is an absence of affectionate touch: this is not a huggy family, although there is love there. They are absolutely real.

Lucy Adams’s lighting gives the production the right feel, especially in the scenes where Agatha takes charge.

This is a quirky, enjoyable production about mothers, daughters, families and individuality. It does not cheapen the difficult topics, but treats them in a way that connects and rejuvenates audience response.

You can see Agatha at The Pleasance, London, until 5 March (performing at 6pm and 8pm). Get your tickets here.

Image credit: Greta Mitchell Photography