There are all sorts of ways in which a family can be created. Whilst there are still plenty around, the traditional template of Mum and Dad and 2.4 children is steadily becoming a thing of the past. Solo parenting, children born by IVF, adoption, same-sex parents, only children, are all on the increase.
Say hello to Mark and Kate. We see their first meeting, their first kiss; we see them moving into their first home, and we see them struggling to have children. Two unsuccessful rounds of IVF later and they have run out of money. But the medics have a solution – albeit an unconventional one. If they’re prepared to help with a genetic trial – which means they will have the ability to choose twelve genes for their unborn baby such as sex, eye colour, physical strength, health attributes – they get their IVF for free. For wannabe mum Kate it’s temptation beyond endurance.
Years later they’re a family of four. He’s got greying hair, she’s still youthful, and they’ve got adopted son Luke and IVF daughter Sophie. Like any family they have their ups and downs, but they all co-exist reasonably happily. Sophie has dedicated her life to running; if she maintains her form, she will become Olympic standard. But one day she discovers the paperwork relating to the genetic trial. And her reaction? You’ll have to watch the play to find out.
This is a fascinating, extremely well-written play that asks a lot of questions about medical ethics and “playing God”. It’s peppered with great insights and engaging relationships; scenes of argumentative drama, quickly contrasted with unexpected humour. It didn’t play with my emotions much, but it really appealed to my intellect (such as it is), and makes you question yourself as to your own responses to the issues faced by the characters.
There are some very strong and mature performances, particularly from the female members of the cast. Kit Wiles plays Kate with supreme confidence and an absolute understanding of what the character is all about; skittish and goofy as a young woman, self-possessed and full of life experience as the older mother. I loved her performance and appreciated how well she was able to develop her character in front of us. Meredith Barnett also turns in a superb performance as the youthful Sophie, whose comfortable world is turned upside down as she discovers that her identity has been plucked off a shelf by her parents before she was born. She absolutely conveys a sense that she no longer knows who she is, and that she is no longer in charge of her own personality. You the audience realise what a painful discovery it would be to have the same loss of self, as though you had been manipulated by your parents from birth. Ms Barnett gives an assertive and immensely watchable performance.
Ryan Greendale gives us a strong impression of the father figure who wants to protect his wife and family at all costs but also needs a little peace and quiet to get on with his work. His splendid confrontational scene with Ms Barnett’s Sophie is a gripping piece of drama, where he must explain his actions from the past, sometimes defending the indefensible, sometimes pinpointing her unreasonableness. There are no wrongs or rights here; it’s a moral dilemma and you can make your own decision – if you dare. Completing the quartet, Tim Medcalf makes the most of the more peripheral role of the mercurial Luke, with an enjoyable touch of arrogance and a capricious flair.
Stimulating and dramatic, and with some great flashes of humour – nobody expected Britney Spears – this is an excellent production with some great performances. Congratulations to all!