Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s hard to believe it’s taken until now – the 2020s – for the term ‘perimenopause’ to enter popular discourse, although, ironically, my computer has just underlined it in red, signalling an unknown word – so maybe we’ve still got a way to go. Nevertheless, we’re moving inexorably away from hushed murmurings about ‘the change’ and oblique references to ‘hot flushes’, and instead naming all of the physical and mental symptoms of this life-altering process. It turns out it’s not just your periods petering to a halt. No such luck. Instead it’s some or all of the following: joint pain, exhaustion, menstrual cramps, decreased (or increased) libido, mood swings, anger, vaginal dryness, brain fog… it’s quite the gut punch. Almost literally.
In The Spark, playwright Kathy McKean explores the impact of the perimenopause on a politician. Robin (the brilliant Nicole Cooper) is struggling in a system that seems designed to constrain her. And whereas, in her younger years, she might have bitten her lip and done what needed to be done in order to get ahead, she’s at ‘that age’ now, and the fuck-it factor has set in. No, she won’t stand by while a group of men harass a young girl at a bus stop. No, she won’t deliver the anodyne presentation her speech-writer, James (Johnny Panchaud), has concocted – a bowdlerised version of her own from-the-heart first draft. No, she won’t accept that she’s powerless to affect change. Because otherwise, what’s it all for?
Directed by Gordon Barr, the three actors effortlessly illuminate the chaos inside Robin’s head, as her adversarial discussions with both James and her long-suffering GP, Maggie (Beth Marshall), build to a cacophony. Maggie’s got enough problems of her own – and she blames Robin for some of them. After all, Robin was, until recently, the minister for health. She knows how over-worked the nation’s doctors are; how can she possibly think Maggie has time to deal with what seems on the surface like a pretty bog-standard set of symptoms? Except that Robin’s menopausal heat seems to manifesting itself outside her body, and who knows where that will end…
The writing here is sharp and the delivery fast-paced and engaging. The Spark seems like a fitting finale to what has been a particularly strong season of A Play, a Pie and a Pint. It’s not perfect – it’s a simple idea that builds well at first, but doesn’t deliver the shocking crescendo it perhaps should, and maybe takes aim at the wrong target (I can think of many institutions more deserving of a middle-aged woman’s ire than the parliament at Holyrood). But it’s good to see this subject aired, and in such a witty, thought-provoking way.