Image: Adura Onashile performing in HeLa
Image: by British Council, Adura Onashile performing in HeLa

“…a shocking slice of shamefully hidden history … theatrically bold in the telling, with Onashile’s heart-rending performance at its centre” [The Herald]

The British Council New Zealand in association with Iron Oxide (UK) and Made in Scotland are proud to announce the NZ tour of one of the most thought-provoking, relevant and outstanding pieces of theatre from the UK in recent memory – Adura Onashile in HeLa.

1951 Henrietta Lacks walked into the coloured section of the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with a pain in her abdomen. A biopsy revealed a cancer that would kill her just months later. A cell sample taken without her permission was used as the raw material for some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past 100 years.

Against a backdrop that charts the scientific milestones of the HeLa cell Line; this production seeks to bring Henrietta Lacks back to life, using testimony from her family members, the scientific community and the doctors that treated her.

“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…” [The Peoples Review]

HeLa is an engaging exploration of the vast scientific progress made possible by the cells of one, unknown woman. It’s a commentary and history leason about the fascinating life story of Ms Lacks and her amazing HeLa strain cells that just wouldn’t die. With wonderfully powerful acting, Adura Onashile brings us a story of institutionalised racism, social reasponsibility and medical ethics. Centered around Henrietta’s family, Onashile plays various roles as the years tick by and the medical discoveries (including vaccines, human genome, stem cells etc.), continue – all the result of the HeLA cells, which were removed and subsequently used by the profession for research without familial consent for over 50 years – a situation that has only very recently been remedied. HeLa highlights the need for full disclosure in an age of increased medical science entrenchment in our societies, with hard-hitting and thought provoking theatre.

Adura Onashile is a writer and charismatic performer with diverse experience in political, verbatim, site-specific and physical theatre. She has worked with companies including the National theatre of Scotland, National Theatre, Urban Theatre Projects, Australia’s foremost site specific company, Chicago Shakespeare Company, St Anne’s Warehouse, The LIFT festival, The Clod Ensemble, The Belarus Free Theatre and Vox Motus. Adura has toured internationally with both the Foreign Commonwealth Office and the British Council.

HeLa took place at IceFest Christchurch bwteen Thursday 9 October to Friday 10 October. 

It was also shown at Otago Medical School Wellington, (at Otago campus Wellington not Dunedin), for a one-off performance on Oct 16th, as well as Q Theatre in Auckland for a season between October 21-25.