Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Rosa Hesmondhalgh: "Starting the blog was mainly a way to inform my friends and family what had happened, and take them through the long process of being diagnosed, and then treated."
MADAME OVARY | Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome)
31st July – 26th August 2019 (not 13th), 12:10 | TICKETS
Madame Ovary explores the usual struggle a 20-something has with trying to stay relevant alongside the less typical struggle of trying to stay alive. This is the true story of Rosa’s journey from her first symptoms to her diagnosis, her first hospital admission, her brush with death, treatment, losing a friend to cancer and finally getting the all clear.
Hi Rosa & Adam thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Adam Small (Director): Great, thank you!
How does it feel to be bringing Madame Ovary to Edinburgh Fringe?
Rosa Hesmondhalgh (writer/Performer): Completely exciting and brilliant. This story has been brewing in a corner of my brain since my cancer diagnosis, and I couldn’t think of a better place to first share it with people than the Edinburgh Fringe.
A: I’m exhausted already. Is it September yet? I just can’t wait for Rosa to be on stage sharing her story and for others to get to see how immense she is.
Are there any nerves ahead of your festival run?
R: Oh my God, yeah. I have to have a nervous poo every time I think about it. I’ve been having these mad anxiety dreams where I accidentally have learnt all the lines to Macbeth or the Christmas episodes of FRIENDS and all the reviews completely slate me. But I think I’d be more nervous if I wasn’t nervous if that makes sense.
A: So many nerves I want to run and hide. But I have faith in Rosa, faith in the story and faith in the magic of Edinburgh.
Can you tell me a little bit about Madame Ovary, what can we expect?
R: Madame Ovary is a story about searching for purpose in your mid-twenties, and then searching for answers when diagnosed with cancer in your mid-twenties. Expect bad poetry, slightly better poetry, love, loss, Louis Theroux. Expect New Year’s Resolutions, and someone looking for a resolution.
Madame Ovary is inspired by your own experiences, how important has it been for you to share your story and experiences of ovarian cancer?
R: I’ve always been a bit of an oversharer, and when I was diagnosed, I thought about using that skill for the good, rather than the annoying. The reason I was diagnosed at such a late stage was because I knew so little about the symptoms, but also because I believed I was too busy to be ill, so didn’t go to the doctor. And when I did, I was misdiagnosed. So for starters, I want to share my story for those reasons. But I also want to talk about the stuff that might not be immediately obvious to people when discussing cancer, the stuff that hasn’t been talked about before.
How much did blogging about what you were going through help you understand what it meant to be a young woman with ovarian cancer?
R: Starting the blog was mainly a way to inform my friends and family what had happened, and take them through the long process of being diagnosed, and then treated. But actually, writing about it in retrospect, and then as I went along, was surprisingly cathartic. It helped me reflect on what I’d been through, and how I dealt with it.
"In this industry, you hear no a lot of the time, so it’s encouraging to believe that not every opportunity is for you..."
What has it meant to you to be able to share your story with audiences?
R: What’s meant the most to me is how much people have engaged with it. The response that I got from the blog posts was truly incredible, and I connected with loads of other people who could relate to it in some way. Some of them were young women with cancer, but some of them weren’t, and they felt affected by it too. If I can reach people with a story that means so much to me, and it means a lot to others too, it makes the tougher times feel like they weren’t for nothing.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this new show to life?
R: I suppose revisiting the trauma. Especially whilst doing the really mundane things like learning the lines, which is essentially repeating some pretty scary things that happened over and over. It’s hard to take yourself out of the experience and see the story from an outside perspective, too, and look at it from an audience point of view. Which bits are boring? Which bits are unnecessary? Do we really need the joke about your weird back mole? Also, there’s a lot of lines to learn. So many lines, so much chemo brain.
As writer and performer is it hard to keep these two roles separate?
R: It’s hard not to judge yourself as you write. As I’m writing a new bit, I’ll imagine myself saying it, doubt myself, and scrub it out, which doesn’t make for a productive writing period really. Or I’ll write something challenging or a stage direction like ‘complicated movement section’ and then realise I’m the one who has to do it and panic.
How would you describe Madame Ovary in 3 words?
R: Fleabag with cancer.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
R: Yeah, for a really long time anyway. My Mum knew I wanted to be an actor, but didn’t want me to go into that empty handed, so would take me to see plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and my GCSE drama teacher would recommend me plays and monologues. I definitely get the most excited about theatre, because I love the relationship there can be between performer and audience.
A: Always. I started off as an attention-seeking kid, wanted to act, trained as an actor and then just fell in love with the process of creating and storytelling and connecting with other awesome humans – creatives and audiences.
What was it about Madame Ovary that interested you so much as a director?
A: It was Rosa. All Rosa. We met when Rosa auditioned for another project I was directing and I just loved her. Then somebody pointed me in the direction of her blog and I sat and laughed and cried and thought – this would be a great one-woman show. Rosa writes so theatrically and engagingly that as I read it my brain started whizzing around on how I’d stage it. Then in the last post Rosa mentioned creating a one-woman show and I had to get in touch.
What has the process been like working together on this play?
R: Brilliant. Adam has pretty much been the fire I needed to set this play alight, otherwise, I think it would have stayed half-finished for a long time. I was so scared of writing it all out and setting myself a deadline because it was so raw, but from the beginning, he supported me, believed in me, and made the whole thing happen as if it was an easy thing. Which it’s not! It’s really bloody not and I never could have done it by myself.
A: Terrible. Rosa constantly makes me realise what a true artist looks like and how I’m nothing but a fraud. She has the willingness to be vulnerable and is bold enough to keep changing things. She also works harder than me which is embarrassing and is really good at hitting deadlines. BUT once you put all that aside, I think we’re a great team and it really has been a joy.
How has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
A: That’s hard to answer because each project has been so vastly different so far. I’m still a very young director and producer and so I’m learning incredible amounts all the time. I think I’m learning to be more realistic about what can be achieved and how to adapt my approach to bringing the best of others to the forefront. Every person works in a different way and if I can get out of the way, I really don’t have to do very much.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
R: Leap and the net will appear.
A: It’s not the critic that counts. The credit goes to the person in the arena who is daring greatly.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
A: You might not have the answer until your second or third preview (If you’re lucky!). Make peace with that. You’ll still be remaking the show in your head for years to come anyway so lean into the vulnerability of the process, don’t get distracted by the fear and enjoy the ride.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
R: ’That’s not what I expected.’ But in a good way.
A: ‘So THAT’S what an Omentum is!’