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She Was a Friend of Someone Else review: A clear-eyed commentary on the fight for abortion rights in Europe

Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Gosia Wdowik’s understated production plays with questions of truth, pretence and shame that also resonate in Ireland

She Was a Friend of Someone Else

Project Arts Centre

Eleven days before Poland’s parliamentary elections, this new work, written and directed by the Polish playwright Gosia Wdowik, offers a sobering insight into the erosion of women’s rights and the emotional toll taken by continual resistance. A coproduction from Nowy Teatr, in Warsaw, and Campo theatre company, in Ghent, She Was a Friend of Someone Else is at Dublin Theatre Festival as part of a European tour that is well timed to draw attention to the lived experience behind the demonstrations and protests in the Polish capital. It is part of a wider project called I’ll Just Say It and See What Happens, a title that captures the tone of the 60-minute performance: a tentative attempt to be honest.

Against a backdrop of video projection, film clips and text messages, with an enveloping soundtrack of grinding, pulsing rhythms, three performers – Wdowik, Jasmina Polak and Oneka von Schrader – move slowly, rolling and crawling across a stripped stage, beautifully designed by Dominika Olszowy and Tomasz Mróz. In the smoky gloom, a body is hidden beneath heavy bedclothes, a woman weighed down by exhaustion. An elliptical narrative describes how one day, instead of participating in a protest against anti-abortion laws, a young woman lies in bed, unable to move. Although she feels numb, she pretends to feel emotions; this, she says, is what she has learned from working in theatre.

Highlighting the fact that progress is not linear and that past breakthroughs and victories over oppressive systems can be – and are being – overturned, Wdowik’s often wry, always clear-eyed commentary returns to key moments in the fight for abortion rights in Europe. First to France, with the famous manifesto in the Nouvel Observateur in 1971, then to Germany, a few months later, for the landmark publication by Stern magazine of a cover with rows of photographs of women who publicly stated that they had had an abortion. Attempting a similar declaration today, activists in Poland are here filmed contacting friends and family, encouraging them to “come out”. A mother and daughter have a conversation that broaches the subject of the mother’s secret, a past abortion.

This delicately structured, understated production plays with questions of truth, pretence and shame that resonate in Ireland also. Wdowik asks whether it is possible to be open about the burnout that comes from months and years of protest. Are activists allowed to admit to exhaustion?


As the floor-based choreography becomes more elaborate, the performers’ bodies are intertwined, heavy limbs locking, lifting and carrying each other, in gestures that embody solidarity amid pain, strength in shared vulnerability. For all its minimalism and lightness of touch, this production’s attempt to find a new, perhaps anti-heroic way of portraying protest is subtly affecting. As Wdowik looks for a sustaining narrative of change and agency that is not necessarily about success or failure, this talented company suggests that there are many ways to be courageous.

She Was a Friend of Someone Else continues at Project Arts Centre, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, until Wednesday, October 4th