All That Lives by Tatty Hennessy at the Ovalhouse

All That Lives

This was our first trip to the Ovalhouse to see a brand new play by Tatty Hennessy. The basis of the play was the life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used by medical research long after she was dead, without her express consent. The play started in the present day with a daughter dealing with her mother’s approaching death from cancer. When she finds out that cells from her mother have been used by at least ten companies she starts to question one of the companies doing the research. ‘All That Lives’ was presented as part of The Ovalhouse’s FiRST BiTES programme of new works-in-development.

The narrative questioned the nature of the consent we give when our bodies are used for medical research and how we give it. The mother had clearly signed a consent form, which expressly gave permission for her cells to be used. As a result we felt little sympathy for the daughter and her pointless fight. This was best articulated by the head of the research company who tells the daughter that it would be better to spend time with her mother in her last days shoring up their memories, as opposed to getting involved in an expensive legal battle that she is bound to lose.

The play jumped back and forth between the modern day, and the much more interesting story of Henrietta Lacks, taking a brief look at her life and what happened to her cells. It was here that the play really worked and we only wish more of the story could have been devoted to this as opposed to the modern one. There was also a look at the life of the two men who used Henrietta’s cells to create medical history, with the cells being used to find a cure for polio and many other things. This was another interesting story that seemed to peter out just when it got dramatic with the revelation that George Gey, the man who created the immortalised human cell line had got cancer himself.

Special mentions must be made of Kayla Meikle and Nathanael Campbell for their portrayal of the Lacks and for bringing lots of drama to the piece in their encounters. Nathanael also brought some much needed light relief as a lawyer. Another mention can be given to Christopher Levens for his solid performance and his solid American accent. An area where others struggled, he nailed the accent. Finally, Katherine Carlton also gave a good performance as Margaret Gey and the head of the research company. Her character, Mrs Gey, should also have been developed more as it cut off at the moment she finds out her husband has cancer. We found it hard to appreciate the performances of the other two actors because their present-day characters seemed implausible.

A good effort at playwriting by Tatty Hennessy, although for us, the focus was slightly off. Furthermore the jumping between America and England was a tough ask for some of the actors, and dodgy accents detracted from the drama itself. That said, this was a young cast with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They have a long way to go in their careers, and we wish everyone involved in ‘All That Lives’ the best.

Dramatic Highlight of the Play – David Lacks’ outburst at the realisation that his wife has cancer: true, powerful and filled with emotion.

WIGS 2/5


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