Up The Hill Jackie is a heartfelt new play from Áine Ryan. It follows two Irish sisters on a trip organised with the intention of pressuring Jackie, Rita’s younger sister, into having an abortion she does not want.
It is a fresh exploration into the ways in which women are denied choice over their own bodies. Jackie lacks the option of abortion in Ireland and, though she has a legal choice when in London, her sister mirrors the oppressive laws, denying her again the right to choose what happens to her body.
Though it tackles this inherently political issue, it is not a just a story with a simple political point to prove. Instead, it grows into a play about the complexities of relationships and control, held skilfully by both actors.
The two have different acting styles which work to complement each other and create the dynamic between controlling sister and lost, struggling young girl. This is an already interesting dichotomy, but is challenged as the show progresses, blurring the lines of the meanings of innocence and experience, of good and bad.
The character of Jackie is effectively constructed as naïve and vulnerable by Erin Ryan. The incorporation of simple melodies strummed out on a ukulele add to her daydreaming character, creating an intense sympathy for Jackie, which is tested as more is revealed. Áine Ryan is her domineering sister, conveying a controlling but troubled relationship with consistent energy and skill.
Despite the play’s heavy subject matter, Ryan has given it a subtle humour that runs throughout. The strength but occasional silliness of two young people in a horrible situation, trying to stumble their way out of it, is captured with warmth and sensitivity.
It remains tense and intriguing until the end, with multiple unexpected plot twists taking the audience through a range of emotions. Though most of these layers work to provide the play with the complexity that makes it successful, a couple of the revelations detract slightly from the effectiveness of the play’s stark format.
Aine Ryan writes with bold, commanding talent. Her dialogue is not flowery, but believable and original. Combined with the brilliant acting, she has created a gem of a play.
Up the Hill Jackie is playing at Bedlam Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until August 28.