A new piece of writing, ‘Viable’ is a “dark comedy about abortion”. It is also a play within a play. A group of actors are devising a play for the Edinburgh Fringe, a post-modern piece about abortion. They ‘rehearse’ several unexpected scenes during the play: a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ sequence, a shopping channel selling Termination kits for very reasonable prices – watch next week for the deluxe edition – and even a Big Brother episode – one of the housemates is considering an abortion, which the other housemates, including a vicar and someone suffering from post-natal depression, debate.
It was certainly a brave concept for a group of students to tackle in the space of an hour, starting a conversation about a controversial topic and encouraging the audience to laugh at it. However, Viable’s execution was somewhat lacking. The play within a play device splits the focus of the piece, as well as the audience, between the scenes on abortion and the various personalities creating them: a preening actor and a director, theatre dictionary in hand, perpetually extolling the virtues of post-modernism. This technique also means that when the actors are rehearsing they are continually questioning the controversial nature of what they were trying to do, so the audience is immediately aware of the play’s aim – making the audience laugh through a discussion of abortion.
Furthermore, they take this aim so far that there becomes an element of the ridiculous to it, the shopping channel in particular. This meant that the audience seemed to laugh more at the representations of stereotyped sunny-faced sellers than at the discussion of abortion itself. They were laughing at such a trivialised treatment of abortion only because it was so outrageously presented, not at the actual topic itself.
The most thought- provoking moment comes in the Big Brother scene, in which the vicar’s extreme views towards abortion quite accurately portrayed those of some members of society. This served as a reminder that views some might now be rather shocked by are held very seriously by other people, especially in different parts of the world.
Despite a severe lack of some very necessary subtlety, ‘Viable’ does make a courageous attempt to breach a contentious and sensitive issue. Although it fell short, a little more faith in the audience to think and deliberate for themselves would have made this a poignant piece, one that really did question whether abortion is a viable topic for comedy.