Dorfman, National Theatre, London – until 28 November 2018
One of my favourite plays recently was Hear Me Howl at the Old Red Lion about a woman, approaching 30, under pressure to have a baby when it really wasn’t something she wanted to do. It was refreshing to look at the woman/mother debate from a different angle.
Nina Raine’s new play Stories is back to familiar territory: A woman desperately wants a kid. Unlike Yerma (Billie Piper was cracking in the Young Vic production two years ago) it’s not a physical problem, more of a partner problem.
Anna (Claudie Blakley) is 39 and in a long-term relationship with a younger man Joe (Brian Vernel) but on the eve of their IVF treatment he gets cold feet about being a father. Such is her desire for a baby she decides to use a sperm donor but it is a desire that isn’t really questioned or examined.
Only once is Anna asked directly why she wants to have a baby – it’s a feeling she ‘can’t explain’ – and it isn’t debated. Ideas of legacy/not wanting to die alone are, slightly clunkily, referred to by the recurring appearance of a young girl and flashbacks to Anna’s old landlady. There is no mention of alternatives such as adoption.
The focus on the pros and cons of using an anonymous sperm donor vs a named donor feels more like a comic device than something to explore in depth. How do you choose one online donor over another based on the same set of profile details and a photo? How do you broach the subject of being a donor with a male friend or acquaintance?
It’s a great opportunity for Sam Troughton and Brian Vernel to play a series of contrasting characters (and do different accents).
But strip out these comic vignettes and the play is left feeling flimsy.
Choosing to give Anna a much younger partner seems to negate a more in-depth debate about male and female desire for children instead, Joe just comes across as comically immature.
Indeed most of the male characters – the exception being Anna’s brother played by Vernel – feel like caricatures.
It’s not funny enough to be a proper comedy but neither does it have a fresh or interesting take on the desire for motherhood and IVF. I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
It’s two hours and 15 minutes, including an interval, and is on the Dorfman stage at the National Theatre until 28 November.
Theatre stuff you might also be interested in:
The shameless Ben Whishaw Birthday post – favourite stage performances
The transfer announcement that I’m really excited about
Fringe Review: Summit, Shoreditch Theatre – a disappointing view from the top
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