Pros: Jemima Rooper sparkles in this otherwise underwhelming show.
Cons: The script is unimaginative and the acting at times mechanical.
With the who’s who of LGBT media types and friends of ‘friends of Dorothy’ turning up for press night, you know that Breeders is going to be major. A star cast and accomplished director Tamar Harvey at the helm gave me confidence that I was in safe hands. Sadly, the show seemed more promising than it actually was – this was definitely a missed opportunity.
Breeders tells the story of Andrea (Tamzin Outhwaite) and her wife Caroline (Angela Griffin) who decide they want a child. They ask Andrea’s brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns) to donate his sperm, inviting him and his girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) to live with them whilst they attempt to conceive. The plot has all the makings of a great family drama packed with humour, but this is never fully realised.
It’s almost impossible to make a good production from a bad script, so to some extent Breeders was scuppered from the start. Playwright Ben Ockrent has created characters that speak as if they barely know each other, not as if they are the family/friends/significant others they are intended to be. Griffin’s Caroline works as a family lawyer, which seems fitting given that everyone seems to be arguing a case in court rather than having a normal conversation.
The script is the biggest, but not the only problem with this show. Outhwaite is cold and school-ma’mish, although there are brief glimpses at vulnerability. Griffin has her moments, like a particularly hilarious incident with a label-maker. As a pair however, they lack real chemistry and spend the play awkwardly manoeuvring around each other. Hooper and Burns have an excellent sense of comic timing and play off each other well. Hooper is equally adept at humour and pathos and Burns has a wonderful moment as Jimmy reveals that he stuck up for his sister against their homophobic uncle. His appalled feeling of injustice at the discrimination really strikes a chord.
There is some laughter to be had with this piece and the room reacted warmly to the humour in the dialogue. There are undeniably hilarious bits but often the jokes are brash and obvious. Each scene ends with a sitcom-y, smart Alec line; I half-expected a knowing look to camera before the blackout.
Lesbian parenting and trying to start a family as a gay couple are important topics that deserves a platform like the St James Theatre and a starry cast and creative team like this one. Sadly, Breeders doesn’t cash in on its considerable potential. However, early signs point towards commercial success, which could pave the way for more plays of its ilk. This can only be a positive thing for British theatre.