Unfairness of ticking fertility clock explored in new play
- Credit: Robert Piwko
"About 500" refers to the number of ovulations in a woman's lifetime.
Simone Hughes' witty play explores the emotional rollercoaster of women's relationship with time and fertility.
Delayed by the pandemic, the work sprang from the Camden resident's Masters at the Central School of Speech and Drama in writing for the stage. After interviewing women of all ages and backgrounds about fertility, she worked their responses into a play about a woman who is convinced she doesn't want children - until rethinking her decision in her late 30s.
"There are verbatim elements to the play," says Hughes, a former Camden School for Girls pupil, who is "Camden born and bred".
"My interviews threw up some very moving stories around infertility and anxiety about time going too fast for women, but also a woman desperate to have a hysterectomy in her early 30s because she didn't want children, who was refused because she might change her mind.
"There's a kind of conceptual visual metaphor running through it. We first meet Clem in her early 30s and travel with her over 10 years from not wanting a child, to deciding age 36 that she does, and her journey into infertility that takes a toll on her mental health and relationships."
Hughes calls herself a late starter after training as a child psychotherapist, then getting into Theatre in Education before signing up for a Masters.
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She says the play sprang from her own experience: "I became slightly obsessed by the fact that major life decisions were affected by my fear of missing the fertile window. Lots of decisions were probably never fully thought through because they were driven by fear, and I got hit by the injustice that men never have the finality or dramatic closure that shapes women's lives, decisions and choices if we want children."
She feels women increasingly "fall foul or are outmanoeuvred" by a timetable that urges them to forge careers when they are most fertile.
"It's a blind spot in feminism," she says. "In pursuing feminist goals we've yoked ourselves to a contemporary Western timetable that's based on male not female fertility. If it affected men, there would be a mandatory career break in your late 20s so people could sort out having children.
"I feel it's a taboo that lots of feminists are uncomfortable with because it doesn't square with endeavours for equality. It's problematic and uncomfortable, so most women are suffering in silence, but the mental health stats for women who are childless not by choice tell the story."
During About 500's run at The King's Head in Islington there is a post show panel of fertility and women's health experts discussing everything from the gender pay gap to mental health.
"There's an important public health message in terms of fertility awareness in this play," says Hughes.
About 500 runs from April 19-23 with a post show discussion on April 23. Visit kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/springboard-about-500