How refreshing, amid the fluff and glitter of Fringe, to find a production with substance and mettle.
Anna Dooley’s one-woman show Endhoe was a biting comedy about her struggle with endometriosis and she went where most other comedians are afraid to – right inside her own uterus.
Her story was told from the point of view of her disease and she depicted “Endhoe” as a charismatic showgirl with a sleek exterior and the evil glint of a corporate sociopath in her eye. Dooley pulled no punches in telling us her story – and she did it with a sardonic humour that had her audience in stitches – while also winning our respect and admiration for her suffering and resilience.
For those who’ve never heard of endometriosis, it’s a disease involving tissue that should be in the uterus going AWOL. It wanders around the abdomen, causing excruciating pain to sufferers. It affects one in eight women around the world and, in the way of many women’s issues like menopause, vaginismus and anorgasmia, it’s under-researched and under-funded; many medical professionals are ignorant about it and it has no known cure.
Sufferers experience such extreme pain they require opiates and are often treated suspiciously as substance abusers when they land in ER, screaming in agony and begging for pain relief. Dooley used charts to describe the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being unconscious. We learned that she has been rendered unconscious from the pain many times, has had four operations and close to 40 hospital visits.
So how was any of this funny? And what kind of storyteller does it take to make material like this funny? As many comedians will attest, there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and Dooley trod this line masterfully. She is Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)-trained in acting and performance-making and it showed. Her meticulously crafted performance was loaded with acerbic humour and her innate comic timing was exceptional. Good direction creates good performers and director Madeleine Diggins brought a great sense of pace and timing to the piece, with beautifully crafted pauses for maximum tension and effect.
Dooley wrote the script with dramaturgy by Charlotte Otton and she brought a bunch of hilarious concepts to the stage, including characters like the indifferent Homebrand F**k Boy, the inept Panadol and Panadeine Forte (performed by stage manager Sharni Joan), and a very clever dialogue between Morphine and Endhoe, in which the powerful Endhoe was, for once, silenced into submission. Respect must also go to Dooley for not sugarcoating her illness in order to make it more palatable to audiences. She wasn’t afraid to shine a light on the darkest parts of her battle with endometriosis, including her occasional desire for death to end her suffering.
As a sufferer of chronic illness myself, I attended this performance feeling unwell and ground down by pain. I found Dooley’s story validating and strangely comforting, if, for nothing else, that it put my own pain into perspective. I have never landed screaming in agony in Emergency nor do I ever want to. Being able to laugh at Dooley’s take on her illness, identify with some of her struggle with pain, and witness her strength and resilience in the face of it, gave me a new resolve to face up to my illness with a little more grit and determination.
The only fault I could find in this story was that the show ended inconclusively, with a whimper rather than a bang. I admire Dooley for not trying to come up with an easy answer to her illness, since there are none, but I’m sure with a little more development she could come up with something a touch more powerful and satisfying with which to close her story.
This aside, Endhoe was everything one looks for in great Fringe theatre. It was brave, honest, uncompromising, subversive and very very funny.
Endhoe was written, directed and performed by Anne Dooley. Following its inclusion in Sydney Fringe 2024, it was performed at WA Museum Boola Bardip on 9-11 February 2024 as part of FRINGE WORLD.