Royal Court, London – until 12 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Tom Ward
‘Purchased from Russia. Developed in India. Delivered to the UK’. Vivienne Franzmann’s Bodies is a blindingly relevant story that has as much to say about the pain of not being able to conceive a child, as it does about who we are willing to take advantage of in order to get what we want. In this case, it is being blind to the realities of the effect that the surrogacy industry has on developing and vulnerable third world communities.
It certainly packs a punch, and this is not solely due to the finesse displayed in the writing. Like an ultrasound revealing Bodies’ truly threatening potential, director Jude Christian heads a show that at one point sends an intersubjective shiver reverberating throughout her audience. Basically, it’s very bloody good.
The audience walk in to ‘The Nearness of You’ by Sarah Vaughan, and are met by Gabriella Slade’s design. As if pulled from an IKEA catalogue, it perfectly reflects Clem’s (Justine Mitchell) desire for the ideal home (and the anticipation of family life), and the clinic where her surrogate Lakshmi (Salma Hoque) is staying until Clem’s baby is born. It is both a portrayal of different physical spaces (large, see-through sliding doors open and close to designate place), and metaphysical place (Clem’s mental state in turn fractures the perfection of the set) – effective in its simplicity, but complex in its meaning. Just as monochrome and sterile as Clem’s mind feels without a child, Slade’s use of colour is perfect for highlighting the bright yellow baby cradle positioned stage left, almost presented in high definition against the rest of the set.
A quick but important side-note – the text does not contain many (if any) stage directions. This highlights Christian’s ability as a director. The style inherent in Bodies visualizes the play’s subtext, systematically layering Clem as a character and bringing a depth of images that drive the audience’s desire to discover Clem’s point of view. Sometimes it is beautifully subtle (at one point Lakshmi paints a wall with yellow paint throughout an entire scene without saying a word, suggesting that she is forced to perform physical tasks whilst staying at the hospital), and at others ferociously confrontational.
Harrowing has become a dime-a-dozen phrase when describing theatre. It is however, not superfluous to use it in conjunction with Franzmann’s Bodiesat the Royal Court Theatre. Christian has created a piece of work that aggressively externalises the play’s subtext through a series of piercingly imaginative images. It is harrowing in the most beautifully necessary of ways.