Dorfman, National Theatre, London – until 28 November 2018
It’s a sign of the sparky credibility of Nina Raine’s play about a woman desperate for a sperm donor – having broken with her younger, unwilling boyfriend – that half an hour in I started thinking “aren’t women hell!” But by the interval this had changed to “aren’t men ridiculous!” Only to be modified later into “actually, it’s theatricals and intellectual creatives who are hell”. It is all very NW3.
For self-flagellating Anna (a likeable Claudie Blakley) is some kind of director, and among the men, straight or gay, who fail to be her longed-for donors are the following: two novelists (one a gay fantasy writer), an actor who is miffed because he thought her call was about a part, a hipster rock star and a film director who feels he is simply too famous. That she eventually strikes lucky with an art dealer we learn in a flash-forward opening scene. Which is a nice comedy-of-modern-embarrassment as he takes his little jar off to the lav with some phone porn, and she retreats to the bedroom to read the newspaper and worry which syringe to use.
All these chaps are played, in a dazzling variety of accent and manner, by Sam Troughton, always a treat. Her parents are a treat too, being Stephen Boxer with some glorious dry grumpy lines, and Margot Leicester. They and her brother are supportive as she trawls her laptop for sperm sellers, which means that all the doubt and worry come from within Anna. The most extreme and serious doubt comes near the end when she talks to an anonymously donor-conceived young man who expresses the misery of never knowing his origin and looking at every man in the street with hope.
Mostly we just share her politely middle-class desperation (this is most unlike the Billie Piper raw yearning in Yerma). She confronts these diverse gits who, as she bitterly says, typically say yes, then “get anxious, stop sleeping, fall into a depression and say they can’t do it”. Amusingly, the hysterical panic of her 26-year-old ex-boyfriend (she is 38, then 39) is almost identical with the later hysteria of her gay potential donor.
So while the deliberate single-mother route by turkeybaster is not all that uncommon, Anna’s anxieties are definitely niche. But Blakley makes her believable, and quite likeable when not being hell; touching are her attempts to tell stories – sometimes about her quest – to a friend’s 9year old daughter, who sometimes becomes her own inner child wanting to make the story come out right. And there are some seriously good laughs, not last in a crucifyingly embarrassing encounter with Thusitha Jayasundera as someone she really shouldn’t have tried to involve..enough said, let’s not spoil it. It is an undemanding two hours fifteen, and not bad fun.
A real quibble though is technical: we learn that for two years Anna and the very young boyfriend tried for a baby and froze embryos for IVF. It makes no sense that a woman who has had to resort to that route would, two years later, put much faith in simple turkeybaster tactics. And even less credible that when the nice art dealer says “a week’s time then?” she doesn’t start calculating ovulation dates. Just saying: it’s a girl thing…
nationaltheatre.org.uk to 28 Nov