Julia Leigh’s one-woman play is adapted from her 2016 autobiographical book Avalanche – A Love Story. Both tell of her experience undertaking in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and their impact. Apart from two silent children who occasionally appear on stage, Peake stands stoically alone on the Barbican stage, sharing with the audience in an extended monologue her moving, sometimes tragic, account of blood samples, steep medical bills, ultrasounds, elevated hopes and seismic upsets.
Peake’s performance is magnificent. She plunges into the depths of Leigh’s writing with verve and a wry smile, creating an exceptionally developed character whose flaws feel as relatable as her strengths. Leigh’s play is simply designed, and occasionally lacks dramatic fuel, but Peake keeps her audience mesmerized nonetheless.
As the name suggests, Leigh frames the story almost as a romance. In the first third, Peake regales of her ex-husband Paul and their turbulent, sometimes passionate and other times painful, relationship. Peake admits that at a young age she never dreamed of being a mother, but as she falls in love with the idea of having children, her relationship and her career take a backseat to her new pursuit, her new love.
Particularly poignant is Leigh’s observation that the private medical system prolongs, and even kindles, her hope for a child, partially because that persistence of hope is proportional to their financial gain. There’s a sense of revelation and anger when Peake, after pressing her doctor for her odds, receives an answer that cuts deep into her dreams.
The staging is initially sparse, allowing Peake to do most of the work. Yet as the play progresses, the white walls around Peake start raising, leading us to a visual climax that is certainly beautiful but feels predictable and forced. Like the children who walk onstage and play with a doll’s house, these seem like additions designed to fill up the vast stage, but instead dampen Peake’s intensity and indeed the intimacy of her performance.
That said, Peake remains utterly captivating. She draws out the best moments of this deeply personal, but for many relatable, play.
|What||Avalanche: A Love Story, Barbican Theatre review|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
27 Apr 19 – 12 May 19, 7:45 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£16 - £60|
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|