MAC play aims to tell human stories behind abortion statistics

Theatre director Julia Samuels is bringing the curtain up on abortion in a new 'taboo-breaking' play based on 50 interviews with young women. She tells Gail Bell why it's time to bring the dialogue centre-stage

The cast of I Told My Mother I Was Going On An RE Trip, including Derry actress Jamie-Lee O'Donnell, front right

THE real-life story of a young Belfast girl's traumatic journey to an English abortion clinic forms part of a play which opens in Belfast next week.

I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip... uses "verbatim voices" from real interviews and features four young performers, including Derry actress Jamie-Lee O'Donnell, who stars in the Belfast-set BBC TWO sitcom 6 Degrees.

The script is based on 50 interviews Liverpool-based writer and director Julia Samuels conducted with young women – five from Northern Ireland – as well as parents, health professionals and campaigners from both sides of the highly divisive abortion argument in an attempt to tell "the human stories" behind the statistics.

Perhaps surprisingly, Samuels was not aware that abortion is illegal in the north before she started work on the show, which opens at The MAC theatre on Wednesday February 22. She says that during her research she was "shocked" to discover that one in three women in the UK will have an abortion during their lifetime.

"That is very high – shockingly high," she says. "I didn't know it was as common as that, so it made me wonder why we still don't talk about it. We only ever debate abortion as an abstract moral issue. In this production we wanted to break that taboo and explore the human stories of the women involved."

A quote from one of the young women Samuels interviewed became the inspiration for the title.

"One of the girls [who was going to have an abortion] told her mum she was was going on an RE trip and needed to be at Piccadilly bus station for seven o'clock in the morning," Samuel recounts.

The mother of a girl from Belfast, called Leah in the play, borrowed money to travel to Liverpool with her daughter so the teenager could have an abortion.

"The desperate young girl, who already had a child when she was 16, had been in an abusive relationship and her mental health was not good. Her mother knew she couldn't cope with another baby and was determined to help her. She struggled with the choice she made but, for her, it was the right choice at the time."

For O'Donnell, who performs the role of Leah, it has been particularly poignant, having had several friends with "with similar stories".

"It's important to open up this conversation," she says.

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