Theatre Review: Expiration Date tackles abortion rights and we need to be talking about this

  • Naomi Gall
  • May 1, 2023
  • Comments Off on Theatre Review: Expiration Date tackles abortion rights and we need to be talking about this

A man and a woman sit on opposite side of a lift, actively ignoring each other.

Trigger warning: this review/play covers the topic of abortion, if that’s triggering for you please give it a miss.

For many, the idea of being trapped in an elevator is the stuff of nightmares. Throw in an ex-partner and it suddenly becomes the last place you want to be in the world. Unfortunately for the protagonists of Expiration Date, it is about to become a very bad day.

Presented at Meraki Arts Bar by the all-female team at Purple Tape Productions, the play centres on the dynamics of a recently broken-up relationship after they become trapped in a lift. There’s hostility, attempts at humour and an underlying familiarity that naturally seeps out after a long-term relationship. We see the unnamed couple, played by Lana Filies and Flynn Mapplebeck, bicker about inane topics and start to pick away at the wall – both metaphorical and literal – that surrounds both of them.

Once those walls begin to come down, we are afforded a glimpse into what their relationship must have been like when it was good, making it even sadder to see what it has become. As the play progresses, we are fed breadcrumbs as to why their relationship didn’t work, but it is not until near the end that the truth is revealed fully.

A man and a woman in a lift argue animatedly, waving their arms around.
Flynn Mapplebeck and Lana Filies. Photo: Clare Hawley.

He wanted a child, she did not. Despite being clear about her choice from the start, he somehow convinced himself she would change her mind. She voices the question of whether she needs to be a wife and a mother to be fulfilled, to which he has no answer. He brands her selfish and career obsessed and threatens her with loneliness if she continues her life like this.

“It’s like I can only exist as half of a whole”, she laments and raises the very valid question of, “Who said a family needs to have kids?” We then discover that, two years ago, she had an abortion and didn’t tell him. He is shocked, and then outraged, accusing her of wasting those two years of his life. Once again, she is labelled selfish.

Directed and produced by Lily Hayman, Expiration Date was a roller-coaster of emotion. Laugh out loud moments were juxtaposed against heart breaking revelations and an understanding that before you are two people who love each other but should never have been together.

The play also raises issues around abortion rights and women’s autonomy over their own bodies. Written by Lana Filies, this aspect could have gone a bit harder. The underlying sexism of the male protagonist doesn’t truly reveal itself until the very end, making it feel slightly disjointed. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the “nice guy” troupe and this idea that a man who visits your sick parent because you’re busy at work is also the same man who will make you feel guilty for having said career and ignoring your family.

A woman and a man sit leaning against the back of a lift, smiling at each other.
Lana Filies and Flynn Mapplebeck. Photo: Clare Hawley.

Both Filies and Mapplebeck were fantastic as the couple, their perfect comedic timing making them entirely believable as friends, although less believable as a romantic partnership.

It was only once Filies character made a comment about the very real risk it was for her to get an abortion in the first place did I start to suspect the play was potentially set in America, where the overturn of Roe v Wade has completely stripped women of their right to choose and potentially criminalises anyone who dares to do so.

While I greatly appreciate the actors did not attempt to adopt American accents, it might be an idea to weave other cultural references into the dialogue earlier to contextualise the couple more. While the process of abortion can sometimes (but not always) be traumatic regardless of what country it’s performed in, there are certain legal risks that now exist in America that, thankfully, do not exist here. Yet.

Expiration Date is a solemn reminder of the stigma associated with women who decide not to have children and particularly with those who decide to have an abortion. When questioned on his reasons for wanting kids, Mapplebeck’s character declared it’s ‘just what you do’ – you get the house, the dog, marriage and then kids. But what if this wasn’t ‘just what you did’?

What if instead we existed within a society where the default was to not have children? Where choosing a life of travel and a career that fulfills you more than any romantic relationship ever has was celebrated and encouraged. Where realising you would make a terrible mother was seen as a generous decision instead of a selfish one.

What would that look like?

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Expiration Date will be on at Meraki Arts Bar until 13 May 2023. For more information and to buy tickets head to the venue website.

Reviewer attended on 28 April.