Iron Oxide
Creators of Daring Physical Performance

White Gold, Iron Oxide


The Scotsman - White Gold - June 2014

AT SOME point in its history, every community that has ever been on the sharp end of economic change needs a show like White Gold, the intense and often beautiful community spectacle staged by Iron Oxide and a galaxy of partners at the Greenock Sugar Sheds over the weekend.

White Gold - The Beacon, Greenock

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Created as part of the Glasgow 2014 cultural programme, this huge show opens up the massive spaces of what is now the biggest brick-and-steel warehouse left standing in Scotland, and leads its promenade audience in three group through a maze of gauzy spaces celebrating industry, family life, romance and the sheer energy and invention of Greenock’s sugar-based industrial heyday, as well as the huge emergency of the Second World War, during which Greenock became one of the main transit ports for Allied troops heading overseas.

What marks White Gold out as an exceptional show, though, is the force with which it integrates both community and professional casts, and the dazzling range of theatrical techniques – dance, aerial work, light-shows and a powerful score and soundtrack by Nathaniel Reed – that it brings to its story, linked by musician, writer and actor John Kielty as our guide, Mr White. In a sense, the material is familiar. Yet in its closing sequence of light and movement through the astonishing space of the Sugar Sheds, White Gold achieves a post-industrial grandeur that recalls NVA’s great Second Coming during Glasgow 1990 in a show that captures not only the industrial revolution the west of Scotland lived through, but also its grandeur, and its strange joy.

Seen on 06.06.14

The Herald - White Gold - June 2014

A community creation delivering precious mettle

Published on 9 June 2014

White Gold

Sugar Sheds, Greenock

Mary Brennan


IN the stillness of a June evening, there's little to suggest that these mighty Sugar Sheds once thrummed with industry.

White Gold, the large-scale, community project that re-animated this A-listed relic blew the sugar-dust off local memories - but with an energy that kept mawkish nostalgia at bay, even when the locally-harvested reminiscences of war-time, hard times, the good times that came and went, were movingly spiked with mixed emotions.

Those who made this Culture 2014 event a proud reality involves a lengthy roll-call of high-end professionals - directors, designers, musicians, performers - allied to an up-for-it horde of local volunteers in greyed-out dungarees who became not just ghosts of the Sugar Sheds past, but living witnesses to the undaunted spirit of Greenock and Inverclyde.

Maybe the acoustic in this vast space didn't favour spoken text, but when the promenading audience stepped inside one of Becky Minto's white-shrouded "cubes", the meanings of each vignette were clearly conveyed in the visual imagery, the movement, the songs and the imaginative aerial work.

Despair and anger in a no-hope job interview, the whammy - delivered, literally, by body-slams against an airborne ceiling - of alcoholism, the raucous joie-de-vivre of family mealtimes where the 'white gold' put food on the table. As the space opened up, the war invaded.

Shadowy figures in great-coats battled invisible enemies, elsewhere the nurses folded sheets and wrote love letters to lads they hoped would come home. Episode after episode until finally White Gold became an anthem to the timelessly rolling billows of the river outside: the Clyde.

A remarkable effort, stirringly delivered.

EdFringe 2013 - The Scotsman * * * *

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: HeLa at Summerhall (Venue 26), reviewed by Kelly Apter

It’s not unusual for a comedian to inject a little topical humour into their set mid-Fringe – but rarely do theatre shows get re-written after opening night. Recent events in the world of medical science, however, have led to a new ending being added to HeLa a week into its Fringe run.

Which, given that the whole show is about breaking new ground, feels very right.

HeLa takes its title from the oldest, and most commonly used, cell line in scientific research. To those using HeLa in a laboratory, the cells are just a pathway to innovation and discovery – used in more than 70,000 experiments worldwide.

But to the children of Henrietta Lacks, from whom the cells were taken without consent, it’s as if part of their mother has been scattered around the globe. We learn this from the show’s writer and performer, Adura Onashile, who takes on the roles of narrator, lab assistants, members of Lacks’ family, and Lacks herself, during this powerful hour.

In 1951, when Lacks first entered a Baltimore hospital complaining of stomach pain, she could scarcely have guessed the scientific breakthroughs she would be partly responsible for. From IVF to cloning, polio vaccines to cancer research, the cells taken from her body have answered numerous questions. Yet until one week ago, nobody ever asked the permission of her family – hence the new ending.

Lacks’ death from cervical cancer left her five children without a mother, her husband without a wife, and as Onashile ably demonstrates, through strong character acting and clear, concise narration, their story has been left untold, until now.

Running alongside the Lacks family story, are tales of other medical experiments, conducted with staggering disregard for their subjects.

Whether you have spent your entire life following medical advancement, or can just about name your essential organs, it matters not. HeLa is as much about the woman as the science that made her famous.

This is a piece of theatre that not only entertains and moves, but asks essential questions about medical ethics, vulnerability and the abuse of trust.

Originally published in The Scotsman

EdFringe 2013 - The List * * * *


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Ethicsand racism in a dance for survival

Date: 7 August 2013

Written by: Lorna Irvine

In 1951, young black mother Henrietta Lacks was refused proper cancer treatment in a segregated hospital, but doctors took stem samples without her permission or prior knowledge. Two months later, she died. Iron Oxide's play, a one-woman show, examines this unscrupulous episode.

Part lecture, part theatre and brimming with insight, Adura Onashile gives a performance that is as spirited as it is heartbreaking: her dance as Lacks is a dance for survival. At the heart of the piece is an ordinary woman who loved to dance, sneaking off to blues halls when she was a teenager. As she sways, or spasms in pain, a timeline plays out on the big screen behind her, showing the development of stem cell research from the 1950s to the present day, and how her own cells are still saving lives.

The Lacks family still haven't seen a penny, while the doctors and researchers saunter off amid glittering plaudits. There are two diseases here – the diffuse, more openly discussed cancer, and the more insidious disease of racism. A provocative, chilling piece which cuts to the bone.

Summerhall, 0845 874 3001, until 25 Aug (not 7, 20), 6.45pm, £9 (£7).

EdFringe 2013 - Fest Mag * * * *

FestMag - Review


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By Lucy Ribchester Published 13 August 2013

Image: Douglas Robertson

If the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family were not shamefully true, HeLa would make a gripping piece of theatre on the ethics of science. But as it is, it becomes far more: a tribute to a woman who never knew the legacy of her own flesh, and a meditation on what makes us who we are.

In the coloured section of a Baltimore hospital in 1951, doctors cut cancerous tissue from Lacks's body in the last months of her life, cells that went on to contribute to some of science and medicine's greatest breakthroughs. Some of these have saved thousands of lives; others may have killed. But neither Lacks nor her family were ever asked permission to take the cells or to use them. The horrible irony at the core of this is that the Lacks family couldn't even afford the treatments their mother's body helped produce.

Writer and performer Adura Onashile's play is tightly told and meticulously researched, cut through with shocking statistics about past medical experiments conducted on African Americans. But it is the passion with which Onashile cares about the injustice done to Lacks that gives this piece its power. As Lacks's cells continue to be used by scientists round the world, Onashile celebrates the way she loved to dance or paint her toenails; the way her daughter bought mother's day cards even after her death. We are left wondering what is more human: the DNA that make up our bodies or the personalities that come from our souls?

EdFringe 2013 - Broadway Baby * * * *


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HeLa of a Show

Venue Number 26. Summerhall, 1

Summerhall,Edinburgh, EH9 1QH.

2-25 August 18:45 (1 hour).

Suitability: 12+.

HeLa tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a 31 year old black woman who received treatment for cancer in a racially segregated hospital in Baltimore, USA in 1951.

Although the story is definitely a tribute to a young black mother, it is also the story of Henrietta Lacks' DNA and her legacy.

This legacy is beyond Henrietta's control: during her examination a sample of her cells were taken without permission and used in experiments, tests and trials which went on to find new treatments for diseases and advances in cell biology. Her cells made Nobel Prize winners and founded advances in medical treatment, but she was never recognised and her family were never consulted in the experiments,which carry on to this day.

This fascinating story is performed by Adura Onashile, who slips in and out of a variety of characters from Henrietta's life. She also embodies the woman herself with passion,integrity and sensitivity, and Onashile's performance is just as compelling as the narrative she skilfully unfolds.

HeLa is closer to traditional theatre than it is to physical theatre,however, when Onashile makes use of an examination table that is centre stage her body convulses and seemingly transforms with a frighteningly possessive force. She lies lifeless on the table with a dead look in her eyes, gazing beyond the audience, supposedly into Henrietta's past. Onashile then forces her body to rise before slamming back down on the table causing a vigorous, loud bang to ring out through the appropriately titled Anatomy Lecture Theatre.

The physicality and storytelling is juxtaposed with video projections from Mettje Hunneman, which act almost as newsreels explaining medical science through 1951 to present day. This reminds the audience of the clinical side of the tale, but also gives us time to digest the performance and the finely crafted story.

Onashile, as narrator, shows humanity and conveys the seriousness of the narrative while asking questions about race,science, poverty, family and DNA ownership. Many of these questions are left unanswered, leaving the audience to make up their own mind and causing us to think long after the performance is over.

[Steven Fraser]

EdFringe 2013 - The Peoples Review * * * *

Edinburgh Fringe: HeLa – Summerhall, Edinburgh


Writer: Adura Onashile in association with Iron-Oxide

Reviewer: Marina Spark

The Public Reviews Rating:


HeLa at the Edinburgh Fringe is located in Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre, a venue which is ideally suited to the subject of this daring physical theatre piece. Any keen geneticists out there will instantly recognise HeLa as the name of a cell line. The use of HeLa has led to the some of the most important scientific and medical discoveries over the past 100 years. HeLa tells the true story surrounding the woman from which that cell line was taken, Henrietta Lacks. Having never given consent to the examination or mass production of her cells, HeLa examines the lasting, damaging effect on Henrietta and her family as opposed to the incredible advances that science made thanks to her tissue samples.

Adura Onashile takes on all the roles in this one woman piece, adeptly portraying each individual with skilful specificity. The physical aspects of this piece have a powerful effect and when combined with the sounds and videos create poignant and moving images. Even more physical sections within the piece would be welcome as they transport the audience straight to the turmoil, illness and pain within Henrietta in a heartbeat.

Often uncomfortable to watch, HeLa makes the audience feel somewhat embarrassed at the total disregard for Henrietta Lacks as a patient, who died in her early thirties from the cancer that led to her cells being taken. They feel even more embarrassed that her family were never able to come to terms with the fact that Henrietta died and yet she lives on all across the world in petri dishes.

The fusion of video, music, monologue and physicality makes HeLa a feast for all the senses. This extraordinary, true story is treated with delicacy and astuteness and is worth a watch if you are at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013.

Runs until Sun 25th Aug (Not 20th)

EdFringe 2013 - All Edinburgh Theatre * * * *


Review – HeLa

Published: August 8th, 2013

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Immortality unsought

Adura Onashile as Henrietty Lacks. Photo credit: Douglas Robertson

Summerhall (Venue 26) Fri 2 – Sat 26 August 2013 Review by Irene Brown

Summerhall’s anatomy theatre is the perfect location for Adura Onashile’s revelatory one woman play about Henrietta Lacks, whose body cells have been vital to modern medicine.

As the audience fills the wooden seats in the steep auditorium, Onashile chalks a series of esoteric four lettered initials on a blackboard, gradually crossing them all out. All that is except the last: HeLa. That is for the first two letters from a patient’s first and last names. Henrietta Lacks.

The 31 year-old Lacks died of ovarian cancer in Baltimore in 1951. Months earlier she had been to the coloured section of the John Hopkins Hospital with stomach pains. The biopsy taken there revealed her diagnosis.

The tumour also provided a sample of her cells which, unlike any other human cells, were able to grow and replicate outside the human body. This so-called HeLa cell line has been used as the basic tool for scientists to test the effects of everything from vaccines to glue on the human body.

HeLa has played a vital part in nearly every major medical advance over the seven decades since Henrietta’s death. And the growing of new HeLa cells has been commercialised. Critically, Henrietta was never asked if her cells could be used in this way; she never gave her consent.

Inspired by ‘The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot, Onashile uses sound, visuals, movement, dance and direct narration to reveal this shocking piece of secret history.

Onashile performs barefoot and vulnerable in elegant cream that is a cross between a nurse’s uniform, a tunic and just a lovely dress to accommodate her character changes through which she mutates like Henrietta’s cells. At times she lies prostrate then writhes heart stoppingly on the theatre’s old wheeled trolley, representing either Henrietta in her agony or as her fast dividing HeLa cells. 

EISF 2013 - The Lancet

Please find the full review for the Lancet by Peter Ranscombe here

EISF 2013 - The Herald * * * *

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Monday 8 April 2013 in 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with a cancer that would kill her shortly after.

As a black woman in Baltimore, her rights were limited, and she would never know a cell sample taken without her permission would provide fuel for some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of the last half-century, sealing the careers and reputations of many scientists en route.

Such a scandalous violation of human rights forms the background to this new solo piece written and performed by Adura Onashile in association with the Iron-Oxide company and commissioned by Edinburgh International Science Festival. As seen all too appropriately in Summerhall's marvellously evocative Dissection Room, Graham Eatough's production has Onashile jump between Henrietta's all-too-personal story and its greater historical consequences with a verve that has her sprawled on a stretcher one minute, then dancing for dear life itself the next. There is archive film footage too, as Onashile dissects historical data with forensic detail.

It's a shocking slice of shamefully hidden history which does science's reputation no favours as it exposes some of its more clinically invasive and downright abusive practices. In Eatough and Onashile's hands, it is also theatrically bold in the telling, with Onashile's heart-rending performance at its centre. As she chalks up the details of one more scientist who made it big on the back of Henrietta's stem cells, it is a damning indictment of those who effectively dehumanised Henrietta into a symbol, even as they lent her a kind of immortality.

The three Science Festival performances promised much for a full run later in the year of a piece that exposes a topic that remains chillingly relevant.

Neil Cooper Theatre critic