MSP features in B!RTH: a global festival of theatre and debate

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Seven provocative new plays and four challenging debates sit at the heart of B!RTH, an international festival taking place at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre this week.

Designed to generate debate on a global scale, the festival is the result of a creative partnership between the Royal Exchange and The Oglesby Charitable Trust.  

B!RTH addresses one of the key issues of our time: the vast inequality in healthcare across the world. It brings together leading voices from the worlds of art, science, academia, politics and charities. These include Rowena Burns, chief executive of Manchester Science Partnerships, the politician and campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, artist Aowen Jin and Professor Lesley Regan, one of the country’s leading obstetricians.

The Royal Exchange commissioned seven leading international female playwrights, including the award-winning Stacey Gregg, Mũmbi Kaigwa and Obie-winner Kirsten Greenidge, to create new plays exploring their country’s approach to childbirth and the cultural pressures that surround it. The plays tackle head on issues of modern maternity intervention (IVF, caesarean, Pitocin), population control and the socio-economics of birth in some of the world’s most densely populated countries. These issues are then reviewed by panels of experts and audience members in four debates following the productions.

“Innovation is about not accepting the status quo and, in this case, finding ways that we can address the inequalities and health risks women face the world over. That’s sometimes about technology, but it’s always about new ways of thinking,” said Rowena Burns.

“The festival is raising issues that are as profound as they are universal. These include still-born deaths, which are symbolised by the festival with a poignant image made up of 3254 baby bracelets - the hospital tags – representing the number of still-born deaths in the UK in 2014.    The backing of The Oglesby Charitable Trust has been essential in terms of making this important project happen and the Royal Exchange has done a marvellous job of the curation.  I’m looking forward to both seeing the work and taking part in the closing debate.”   

Performed across four days the B!RTH will take over the Royal Exchange building with an exciting programme of new writing, installations, workshops and debates from 19 – 22 October. The cast for B!RTH includes Minar Anwar, Elizabeth Chan, Nadia Emam, Shobna Gulati, Carla Henry, Danielle Henry and Purveen Hussain.

The plays include:

A SON SOON by Xu Nuo (translated by Jeremy Tiang) (China)

Two women visit a shamen to ask for guidance, one has the money to buy her way out of the government’s two child policy, the other doesn’t. Xu Nuo, one of China’s most promising playwrights, explores how governmental population control laws affect different women and how gender supremacy still dominates modern China in this smart, quirky play.

OUROBOROS by Swati Simha (India)

Mass sterilization is common practice in poor rural areas of India. Women are often given incentives and doctors have targets to reach in unsanitary conditions. Ferocious young writer Swati Simha evokes a rich mystical world in this story of a doctor haunted by her role in India’s population control effort.

ORCHID by Mũmbi Kaigwa (Kenya)

There are so many reasons why a woman may suffer from fistula, a hole in the wall of the birth canal, but there is no good reason why that woman can’t be treated. Award winning writer, performer and producer Mũmbi Kaigwa shares real voices of Fistula sufferers through this deeply moving piece of verbatim theatre.

Q&Q by Liwaa Yazji  (translated by Clem Naylor) (Syria)

Why would a Syrian refugee want to bring a child into this world? Leading Syrian filmmaker and playwright Liwaa Yazji digs under the skin of 3 Syrian women, from very different homes, to discover how they overcome the deeply disturbing effects of conflict, displacement and the cruelty of war.

CHOICES by Stacey Gregg (UK)

We are spoilt for choice in the UK. The choice to have a child and the choice not to. Award winning Irish playwright Stacey Gregg guides us through two deeply intimate stories about two women faced with the complex challenges that choice can provoke.

SO FAR AS A CENTURY’S REACH by Kirsten Greenidge (USA)

It costs more to give birth in the USA than anywhere else on the planet, so why do they have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world? Obie award winning playwright Kirsten Greenidge takes back across 100 years of childbirth in the USA and asks ‘has anything changed’?

THE BIRTH MACHINE by Marcia Zanelatto (translated by Mateus Ciucci) (Brazil)

What is behind Brazil’s Caesarean epidemic? Prolific screen and theatre writer Marcia Zanelatto scours her own family history of birth to tackle this question on a backdrop of the country’s turbulent political landscape.

Four powerful debates will follow the plays and offer audiences the opportunity discuss the topics explored on stage. CONTROL, RESPONSIBILITY, CHOICE and ACTION are debated as expert panellist pull-apart the complexities of maternal and global healthcare for women. Panellist include Shami Chakrabarti, Aowen Jin, Prof. Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Rowena Burns, Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, Minna Salami, Prof. Mukesh Kapila, Prof. Mavis Kirkham, Prof. Daniel Brison, Prof. Nynke van den Broek and Prof. Lesley Regan

Emma Callander, co-founder of the global theatre movement Theatre Uncut, is the Creative Director for B!RTH.

B!RTH furthers the development of the relationship between Bruntwood, the major shareholder in Manchester Science Partnerships, and the Royal Exchange Theatre, which has already seen huge success with the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. B!RTH has been developed as a project that will continue online after the festival in Manchester. All writers have agreed that the plays can be made available for free to any charity or education organisation who wish to use them to open up a conversation.

B!RTH has been developed as part of Manchester’s year as European City of Science 2016, and supported by the University of Manchester and their leading Global Health Professionals Professor Mukesh Kapila and Professor Dame Tina Lavender.

In addition to the plays and debates The Royal Exchange Young Company, in collaboration with seven mothers from Greater Manchester, have created an installation in response to their stories. Other events will be taking place across during the four-day festival.