BMA’s Anthony Plevey talks to playwright Eloise Snape about the upcoming Canberra performance of her first major play, Pony. It’s a one-woman, 30-role exploration of pregnancy that is as brazen and hilarious as it is heartfelt and meditative.
Pony is billed as an “oh-so sassy, crass crusade” through pregnancy. Following a spirited conversation with playwright Eloise Snape, she reveals it to be much more than just a comedic premise.
“It’s a fully scripted play,” states Snape. “A single-handed performance in which actor, Briallen Clarke, inhabits 30 roles.”
These roles include protagonist Hazel, her mother and grandmother, and the midwife and doctor, delivering a no holds barred travelogue through childbearing’s disorientation. It’s a study of the transition from free-wheeling party girl to responsibility-laden mother-to-be in 21st-century Australia.
Snape recognised director Anthea Williams’ script collaboration on Pony, her first major work, and her trust of Williams and Clarke in rehearsal.
“It was nice to step back, confident that they knew what the story was, and the best way to rehearse to bring the best out,” she reveals. “Briallen is incredibly, insanely talented and I knew that she would understand the story and the way that I see it.
“The way she delivers the punchlines and jokes is exactly how I heard them when writing.”
Asked on who is the enemy of this crusade, Snape acknowledged that reality, biology, survival, and loss are chief among the foes. The sense of loss and hope generated by the work has surprised audiences, who perhaps settled into their seats expecting a serving of crass comedy.
“I was aiming, and hoping, to make people laugh and cry, so it seems to be doing that,” she says.
An aspect of loss is emphasised by the use of the eponymous 1996 song, Pony, by Ginuwine. With its hedonistic lyric, this is Hazel’s party-girl anthem. While she self-confessedly doesn’t care much about her job, with a child imminent, she’s painfully aware of the dwindling chances left to hit the dancefloor to that song.
“She is a Peter Pan type character,” says Snape. “I believe she still thinks she is in her early 20s.”
Pony also has its take on the stereotypes of pregnancy and the challenges of being a millennial mum.
“One of the things that we’re trying to say with this play is that the journey to becoming a mother is almost impossible,” states Snape.
“The expectation that while you are growing another human in your body, you are also supposed to do all the things that you were doing before. How we are meant to still achieve, still work and run companies.
“All this whilst having to choose and juggle birthing classes, gender reveals, and all these strange and not necessarily enjoyable things that mothers-to-be are expected to do nowadays.”
Along with the culture shock and “impossibility” of pregnancy, Snape’s Pony also tackles the mental health issues of childbearing.
“Hazel is having her first child, she is struggling with prenatal anxiety, frightened of what she is going to lose, and comparing herself to people in her world,” says Snape.
Relating to her own experience, Snape continues.
“It can be a short period of time. At the time, however, it feels like it’s going to last forever. You do, eventually, start to find yourself again. Then if anything, a year later, you’ve learned, found yourself, and become more whole as a human being.”
Similarly, Pony doesn’t shy away from close encounters of the gynaecological kind.
“Yes, it does get quite graphic and quite raw with some of the descriptions,” Snape says. “Through the midwife character, Hazel experiences the way in which, in pregnancy, a woman’s body, her body, becomes sort of not only hers but also everybody else’s property.
“A thing to be looked at, examined, and judged.
“I don’t hold back,” Snape continues. “As much as we want to try to escape our genes and our genetics, we can’t. With horror stories in her head and performance anxiety about the birth and the aftermath, Hazel asks: ‘Will my vagina be destroyed?’”
It’s not all out-of-control discomfort, pain, confusion, and doubt, of course. The wonder and mysteriousness of motherhood also shines through in Pony.
“On the journey of the play we go through all of those things with Hazel; the physical changes in the body along with the societal pressures,” says Snape. “However, you walk away with a sense of positivity, hope, and wonder at the pure feat of nature that is growing a human being in your body. How incredible women are and how incredible it is to bring a child into the world.
“Women are so powerful and just complete superheroes.”
Pony is showing at the Canberra Theatre Centre between 22-24 June at 7:30pm in the evenings, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, 24 June. A feature of the season will be the morning Babes in Arms Performance on Thursday, 22 June at 11am*. Her Canberra and Canberra Theatre Centre invite new and expectant mothers to complimentary coffee and cake before heading into a special breast-feeding friendly, house lights on performance. Tickets are $49 – $69 + bf via Canberra Ticketing.
*Added bonus Babes in Arms Performance has been added for Friday 30 June at 11am