Theatre Utopia, London – until 15 April 2017
Divergent Theatre’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Hand Maid’s Tale isn’t just timely but a look at modern fertility, patriarchy and what the role of the outsider has and may become. Victoria Sheldon stars and writes this 45-minute piece about Mischa (Kate Gwynn, who is also producer), a young refugee who has been promised citizenship (and an escape for her family in her war torn sector) if she can conceive a child for the fertility centre’s clients. When she is chosen by the The Count (Jason Plessas) and Countess of Spence (Victoria Grace/Sheldon) to carry their child her future seems assured.
The story also looks at Rachel (Rashida Amanda), who is yet to be chosen as a carrier, a factor she blames on her race. Initially seeming a vivacious character it soon becomes clear that Rachel has a lot to hide and lot to lose if she doesn’t manage to conceive.
It is a piece very sympathetic to females in the story but doesn’t paint the men as villains, despite their power to make or break these women. Plessas’s Count is vile, in denial about his own fertility problems he has no qualms about abusing his power but is never portrayed as a cartoon villain, he is simply a man in a world that acknowledges women’s infertility constantly but men’s problems are never discussed.
Jamal Chong (who along with Gwynn starred in his production Possibilities at Theatre N16 last year) and Alexander Tol star as Drs Alex Yousaffi and Mark Stewart. Stewart is character, who appears to care for his clients and maybe cares too much to keep his clinic going and Yousaffi is the forgetful, sycophantic doctor whose care doesn’t extend beyond the rich clients.
If the audience familiarity with the original material puts them off seeing this production then it shouldn’t, it gives a very 21st century take on Atwood’s work without being overtly political or predictable. There are some odd tonal shifts between scenes and some jaunty music after some painful scenes but I particularly enjoyed a lot of scene changes, such as the “insemination scenes”, which are done far more tastefully than that description suggests. It is a strong and enjoyable piece of work, that embraces its short length rather than trying to fill it out with unnecessary scenes. There is some really stunning lighting as well in the small and, as a Croydon resident, mostly unknown space in St Matthew Yard.