Pricks: one woman’s journey through a lifetime of injections

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Jade Byrne’s autobiographical show Pricks explores type 1 diabetes and the many misconceptions that surround the condition. Kate Lovell saw the show at the Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead

a woman in a blue suit stands pouring a bucket of syringes over her head

Jade Byrne in Pricks

A towering, clinical cabinet looms centre stage, lined with tiny glass vials, each meticulously labelled in a font too tiny to read from the stalls seats. A medical sharps bin glows luminously and a whiteboard announces the show’s title: Pricks.

A provocative term with a number of meanings: this piece, though, focuses on Jade Byrne’s experiences of living with Type 1 diabetes and the many injections this necessitates. In fact, Byrne takes a leaf out of the TS Eliot poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and measures out her life in ‘pricks’ which she clocks on a whiteboard as she takes us through an intimate show about life with the condition, from diagnosis to the present day.

The show begins with Byrne at four years old, cowering behind a sharps bin, hiding from the inevitable injections that the medical staff want to inflict upon her. She has already endured 12 pricks, and does not want to be subject to any more. This, though, is only the beginning of a life where Byrne estimates that in total, she has had over 70,000 pricks.

Byrne is a vivacious and accomplished performer who is more than capable of captivating an audience for a 55 minute, one-woman show. There are moments that create a fizz of heartfelt emotion with their delicacy. Byrne explains that she has interviewed people from all over the country who manage type 1 diabetes, each represented by a vial in the cabinet.

a woman in a blue suit stands on a stool

Jade Byrne in Pricks

The show is punctuated by a beautiful piece of recurring stage craft using insulin bottles as a vehicle for conveying other peoples’ lived experience of the illness. I felt this device could have been utilised more.

The play stumbles in focusing on the development of the medical condition as a rough narrative arc. The issue is in the edit: where the play at times becomes more like an awareness-raising event than a piece of theatre. The management of a chronic illness in and of itself does not create a compelling story and at times Byrne focuses more on the medical nuts and bolts of diabetes, rather than the human story; the people getting lost behind the clinical jargon.

There are some laugh-out-loud recognition moments for disabled people in the audience. In one section Byrne wearily repeats that she has type one diabetes, as a litany of ignorant questions and responses are played on stage, back to back: “Did you used to be fat?”, “Can I catch it?” until Byrne becomes exasperated with the repetitious cycle.

The show valiantly demystifies a much misunderstood illness and Byrne generously shares her personal story on stage, but I was left wondering whether she would benefit from valuing herself more as a performer and finding a more political story as opposed to the conventional ‘triumph over tragedy’ narrative in the plays’ resolution.

Pricks plays at Derby Theatre on 24th May, Cast in Doncaster on 28th May and 4th June at the Pulse Festival in Ipswich. For further details go to www.prickstheplay.co.uk