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posted/updated: 13 Jul 2017 - edit review / upload photos
By Vivienne Franzmann.
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 12 Jul 2017
venue: Jerwood Theatre Upstairs - Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS
reviewer/s: Paul Johnson (Sardines review)

Photo: Bronwen Sharp

Vivienne Franzmann’s latest play – at London’s Royal Court until 12 August – is a stark look at the human effect, responsibilities and moral ethics of maternal surrogacy on a global scale, and it’s a stylish, sensitive but, extremely tough watch.

Clem, who produces reality TV documentaries (the Channel Four type), and husband, Josh, cannot have children and decide to pay an international surrogacy agency to deliver them their much-longed-for child. Josh’s sperm, a Russian egg donor and an Indian girl called Lakshmi – to carry the foetus full term – are seemingly all that’s required... oh, and £22,000.

In the opening scene, and throughout, Franzmann shows us just how overcome Clem is with the desperate need to have a child when she continuously converses with her imaginary teenage daughter. However, it is through this extension of her ‘conscience’ that we discover the human cost in facilitating the desires of wealthy childless couples. Where there’s money, you can bet there will be exploitation.

Not only is a question-mark raised over the anonymous Russian female who has 'supplied' the couple with a healthy egg, but we find out that a young Indian widow Lakshmi, desperate for the money, has left her two young children to fend for themselves while she stays with the surrogacy agency to see her pregnancy through.

Clem, who you might think ought to have known better considering her professional background, is increasingly torn between reaching her lifelong maternal goal and slowly realising the ultimate cost. Compounding the couple’s dilemma is Clem’s socialist father, David, who is suffering from Motor Neurone Disease but is still just about able to voice his strong opposition to his daughter’s controversial decision.

Jude Christian’s production is a slickly worked piece (without an interval) which interweaves fantasy with reality very well. Gabriella Slade’s modern-yet-minimalist design complements this and fits well with Clem and Josh’s comfortable lifestyle. Justine Mitchell is quite outstanding as the childless TV producer. In a job requiring people management and organisation, it’s easy to leave your humanity hat at home for the sake of ‘making good TV’ and, whilst I would have liked at least a glimpse of the fitting ‘trash TV producer’ in Clem, the naturalism and range demonstrated by Mitchell is a real class act.

Hats off to Jonathan McGuinness for stepping into the role of Josh with only a single day’s notice (due to illness). With script in hand he somehow manages to deliver an exemplary performance without cost to his onstage wife. It cannot be easy to create the essential chemistry required for this couple after one day. Hannah Rae supports well as Clem’s perfect-if-imaginary teenage daughter, Megan, while the experienced Philip Goldacre convinces as the chair-bound David.

Elsewhere, Lorna Brown as David’s no-nonsense substitute nurse, Oni, enables the audience the chance to occasionally smile thanks to her dry wit while, at the same time, offering the solitary voice of reason on more than one occasion. Also Salma Hoque as the desperate Lakshmi provides plenty for the audience to think about as the woman who has abandoned her own children to have someone else’s baby; a situation she deeply regrets the closer she gets to full term. Regret, of course, doesn’t hold much weight when you have no money and no rights – but this is going on as we speak all around the world. It’s the impossible situation and one that people will do anything, and ignore anything, to realise.

Bodies plays at the Royal Court until 12th August.
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