This year is the biggest festival programme yet, and the incredible actor Maxine Peake will be starring in the stage dramatisation of Julia Leigh’s powerful memoir Avalanche: A Love Story, the centrepiece of Fertility Fest 2019.
When I first read Avalanche, I remember being blown away; not just by Julia’s eloquent and soul-stirring writing, brimming with honesty and moments of black humour — but because it offered a genuinely different (and very, very much needed) take on infertility.
Julia’s personal account of six brutal rounds of IVF reflects the gruelling reality of a long (and costly) fertility journey. The physical burden of invasive medical treatment; the all-consuming yearning to have a baby; the pendulum of emotions swinging from high hopes to the depths of despair, that will be all too familiar to anyone with personal experience of this subject. What I really loved about Avalanche was that it challenges the narrative of fairytale endings of triumph over adversity, by laying bare the honest truth of the very real toll of failed IVF on your relationship, career, health and sense of self — and the acknowledgement that not all journeys end with a miracle baby.
If I was excited when I found out that Fertility Fest would be staging a theatre adaptation of Avalanche, I was practically giddy when I found out that it would be starring Maxine Peake. (Any pretence of playing it cool might as well go out the window, because, y’know. It’s Maxine Peake! Absolute shero and general goddess of stage and screen.)
Hailed by TV writer Peter Moffat as ‘simply the best actress of her generation’, and described by the Guardian as an actress ‘you want to follow whenever she appears’, she’s renowned for playing a range of provocative and award-winning roles. From Veronica Ball in the original series of Shameless to barrister Martha Costello in legal drama Silk, whistleblower Sara Rowbottom in harrowing drama Three Girls to her BAFTA nominated role in Hancock & Joan, she’s won critical acclaim playing powerful female leads in some of the top TV dramas in recent years.
On screen she’s portrayed Stephen Hawking’s nurse Elaine Mason in The Theory of Everything, and shown us what it takes to be a female comedian in the film Funny Cow.
As a writer, she’s championed the stories of British women who’ve achieved greatness or faced adversity, though plays such as Beryl and Queens of the Coal Age.
Her theatrical career, including leading roles in Miss Julie, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Children’s Hour — and, most notably, a radical reimagining of Shakespeare’s most iconic role in Hamlet to wide critical acclaim — was recognised with the Outstanding Contribution To British Theatre award at the UK Theatre Awards last year.
So, yeah. She’s pretty bloody awesome. And that’s only a snapshot of her prolific output. So it’s no understatement to say that having her star in Avalanche is a dream come true.
Avalanche is a perfect fit for Fertility Fest, as Julia Leigh’s writing raises some really fundamental questions about infertility— big societal issues that will be explored throughout the Fertility Fest programme of events, including the following sessions:
The Fertility Industry
When clinics are the merchants of hope, are the seductive promises of the multi-million-pound IVF industry selling patients an unrealistic dream? Do we really understand our chances of success (and are we willing to listen?)
- The Big Fertility Questions — Wed 1 May 2019, 6pm
How do you balance hope and hopelessness? Is it better to be brimming with positive optimism or defensive pessimism? How can prepare ourselves emotionally for failed treatment?
This issue is explored throughout the Big Fat Festival Day on Fri 3 May 2019:
- When ART Doesn’t Work — 11.30am
- The Pursuit of Parenthood — 1.45pm — including the UK Premiere Screening of ‘Anything You Lose’, a moving documentary exploring the impact of unsuccessful fertility treatment
Career and motherhood
How do we reconcile our desire to be successful in our careers with our desire to have a child? Can we really have it all, or are we kidding ourselves that we can give career and motherhood equal priority?
What Comes First: The Career or The Egg? — Sat 4 May 2019, 11.30am, 1.15pm & 3pm
If the dream of having a child doesn’t come true, how do you create a different happy ending? What does a meaningful, fulfilling, joyful life look like when it doesn’t follow the path you’d hoped?
There’s More to Life than Children — Sat 27 Apr 2019, 1.30pm, 3.15pm & 5pm
Avalanche will be running from Sat 27 Apr to Sun 12 May 2019
For more information, performance schedule and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website