THE right to abortion is one we take for granted in the UK and nowhere was this more apparent than in walking away from Underbelly Cowgate after a performance of Chalk Line Theatre’s Blanket Ban.

This is a show which will take you on an emotional rollercoaster; laughing one minute about strange Maltese quirks and cuisine and the next crying about how women have come face-to-face with death because of the nation’s nonsensical blanket ban on abortion.

It is the only country in the European Union to prohibit it entirely under any circumstance, including rape or incest, and it is estimated hundreds of Maltese women have to travel abroad every year to get an abortion.

It’s also a rollercoaster because of the clever way in which co-stars Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella interweave different methods of storytelling throughout. Real-life video conversations with women who have lived in or visited Malta while in need of a termination are interspersed with Hamilton and Vella acting out some of the most troubling tales they’ve heard while also talking about the process of bringing the performance together over the last three years.

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Malta has some of the most progressive transgender laws in the world, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been banned in the country since 2004, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been allowed to serve in the military for 20 years.

Not only that, Malta is a beautiful country full of history and a top holiday destination, and Vella and Hamilton really communicate well the sense of frustration that, for some reason, abortion rights have never managed to reach the shores of this proudly Catholic, post-colonial nation.

Vella begs with the audience at one point not to walk away thinking Malta is some oppressive dungeon which does not care about people’s health and well-being, and thankfully you don’t. It is obvious from the opening scene the love and admiration Hamilton and Vella have for their home country, and they express how even people working in Malta’s healthcare system feel stuck themselves because of the ban.

The National:

The show attempts to explore some of the reasons why Malta has never seemed to shrug off its opposition to abortion – its deeply-rooted Catholicism perhaps, an endless line of governments and opposition politicians who have been against the practice, its heroic portrayal of the Virgin Mary, and how the idea sex is not something women should enjoy or talk about freely is taught in church schools.

But it never really comes to any one conclusion, evoking a desperate search for a shred of explanation for a rule that in modern times – when abortion can be done safely and simply – just does not make sense. “You’re lucky to have abortion here in the UK” is one of Hamilton’s lines, and you walk away from the show feeling the fragility of that right, how things could easily be so different had we been led by more extreme governments.

Even recently, the UK Government refused to guarantee the right to abortion in its forthcoming Bill of Rights, as Justice Secretary Dominic Raab – who abstained in a vote on decriminalising abortion in 2017 – told MPs he did not see the case for protection arguing it was “already settled in the UK law”.

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But abortions are still by default deemed a criminal act in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act, and it is only legal to get one if it is carried out under certain circumstances.

We are not immune to losing our right to abortion and Blanket Ban shows us in stark fashion how scary life can be for women who, if they fall pregnant, no matter how that has come to pass, must deliver the child.

In the wake of the Roe v. Wade ruling being overturned in the US – which removed the constitutional right to abortion – and rising anti-choice protests outside abortion clinics in Scotland, this show could not come at a more relevant moment in our history and, despite the crumbly venue it is performed in, Vella and Hamilton give bold, brave and strong performances after three long years of story-gathering during a pandemic. This is a triumph and a must-see.

Blanket Ban is on every day until August 28.