Pros: Serious and sophisticated approach to weighty issues.
Cons: Goes over-the-top in the final act.
Some subjects are so emotive that you barely need to hint at them in order to create a sympathetic resonance with an audience. Few people could fail to be moved by the plight of the characters played out in the Royal Court’s beautifully versatile upstairs space in Vivienne Franzmann’s compelling script.
Infertile Clem (Justine Mitchell) and supportive husband Josh (Jonathan McGuinness ably reading in for an indisposed Brian Ferguson) have acquired an egg from a Russian donor, fertilised it with Josh’s sperm and implanted it in an Indian surrogate for a £22,000 fee. It seems a complicated but workable situation, but this is drama and, so inevitably, the arrangement unravels disastrously.
Thrown into the mix is Clem’s sickly father David (Philip Goldacre), succumbing to a degenerative condition and cared for by private agency nurse Oni (Lorna Brown). The way Clem and Josh use their apparently buoyant financial situation to facilitate easy solutions to difficult problems becomes one of the play’s key themes, and is brilliantly critiqued in a climactic scene between Josh and David.
The bulk of the play features much stylistically sophisticated writing that succeeds in wrong-footing the audience on several occasions, generating intrigue and establishing complex but believable relationships. One particular narrative device (which I won’t spoiler) is admirably bold and effective, setting a clear emotional bar early on in the production.
Unfortunately for such an otherwise subtle piece, Franzmann can’t resist the temptation to cross into melodrama as the play nears its conclusion, and the director (Jude Christian) seems disinclined to pare back this mistaken instinct. I don’t doubt the events depicted do occur in reality, but presenting them in an almost hysterical form robs them of nuance. The extreme pitch of the final scenes tips an effortlessly gripping show into something that tries too hard to magnify its meaning, losing the trust of the audience.
The cast do an excellent job with emotionally challenging material, and Gabriella Slade’s design is pleasingly minimal, although the rolling back and forth of glass screens doesn’t contribute much. This is a smart and ambitious take on the ethics of international fertility treatments, and for much of its duration it is powerfully involving. But sometimes shouting isn’t the best way to get a message heard, and it is a shame the climax doesn’t maintain the theatrical elegance of the bulk of the play.