Pros: An excellent cast give a wonderfully human portrayal of a dry storyline.
Cons: For all its integrity and fluency, the play cannot disguise a frequently patronising tone.
Have you heard the one about two doctors, one farmer, one dead body and a phial of donor sperm? Sounds like the intro to a promising gag, but is actually the opening salvo to the press release for Baby, the latest production staged by the Hope Theatre.
The play concentrates on Dr Antonia Innes-Kerr, one of the most gifted cardio-thoracic surgeons of her generation; she must choose between testifying against her colleague, Dr Patrick O’Shea or convince him to make her pregnant. However, even though a man can donate sperm freely, a woman must receive permission from her husband before receiving artificial insemination via donor sperm. Antonia must also contend with her needy, controlling mother and a carefree girl with a toddler enjoying motherhood in the local park.
So begins 80 minutes of ethical and legal conundrums dealing with feminism, motherhood, conception, living wills and a patient’s right to determine when their life ends. All very deep and meaningful; but despite the occasional injection of humour I didn’t always find it easy to watch. Antonia is a surprisingly complex character with a brilliant medical career, but inexplicably still tied to her mother’s apron strings. Her twisted, controlling behaviour has turned Antonia into the son her mother really wanted; succeeding in a male dominated profession, wearing masculine suits and seemingly rejecting conventional femininity. But deep down inside, Antonia longs to be pretty, fragrant and mother to a child she has nurtured, carried and given life to. Carefree girl in the park only serves to remind her of her deepest desire. Then, we have the issue of Dr Patrick O’Shea, a colleague who allowed an alcoholic patient to sign a ‘do not resuscitate’ disclaimer after arrest. Underlying sexual tension between the pair is barely disguised, and Antonia must decide whether to testify against Patrick or convince him to act as her sperm donor.
The play is extremely well written, but does sometimes talk down to the audience and need not be quite so paternal in its outlook. Nevertheless, it raises some challenging issues; is it possible for a woman be both feminine and feminist? Can a doctor judge a patient’s state of mind if they decide their life should end in specified circumstances? How far should medical science be able to manipulate the reproductive process? It is a thought-provoking piece enhanced by a great cast; Cate Cammack as Antonia; Andrew Nolan as Patrick and the brilliant Alice Haig playing four roles including Antonia’s mother and carefree girl. Despite its shortcomings, the play made me think and care about the characters, so it deserves a reasonably big tick.
Author: Effie Samara
Director: Abigail Pickard Price
Producer: Will Bourdillon/Kite High
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/81702
Booking until: 2 May 2015