The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Summer 2017
Vivienne Franzmann's intense new drama uses the improbable confluence of several improbable events to generate some very real and deeply affecting emotions.
If you don't mind the convoluted road she takes to get there, what she tells us about being human will be worth the journey.
Clem and Josh, a middle class British couple, can't have children – actually she can't – and so they spend a lot of money to combine his sperm with an anonymous donor's egg and implant it in an impoverished Indian woman's womb.
Everyone wins by the surrogacy, they are assured – the donor gets paid, the Indian woman gets paid a lot and can guarantee her own children's futures, and they get their baby, one so real to them that Clem is already having imaginary conversations with her grown-up daughter.
And it is in those conversations, whose unreal quality is withheld from the audience for a while, that the playwright offers the first hints of much deeper and darker emotions at work.
Clem is not only eager to have a child. Her whole sense of self is controlled by her childlessness and her self-defined failure as a woman.
It colours everything, including her relationship with Josh (who is equally desperate, not so much for a child as to make his wife happy) and with her physically ailing father.
And then when she learns or intuits that the Indian surrogate is making much greater sacrifices than she had been led to believe, layers of guilt are added onto her emotional burden.
What happens if something absolutely necessary for your psychic well-being can only be achieved at unacceptable cost to another?
What happens if two women's highest values and greatest passions clash? Does the fact that money is involved inevitably and irretrievably corrupt everything? Where is the morality when everybody – or nobody – is right?
Bodies not only raises these questions, but makes the audience feel them in passionate human terms, and much credit must go to director Jude Christian and her wholly committed cast.
Justine Mitchell takes us deep into Clem's anguish at being less than a woman and then makes us live with her the unceasing waves of pain as her sanity-threatening need is struck by revelations of the cost she's demanding others pay.
Filling in at short notice for an ailing actor, Jonathan McGuinness achieves the remarkable feat of capturing all of Josh's character and emotions even while relying on a script for some of the words, and young actress Hannah Rae quietly and sensitively serves the play by making the imaginary daughter very solid and real.
There are minor flaws to Bodies – things get a little too soap-opera-ish toward the end, and the ageing father is never really integrated into the plot or the emotional core.
But as a multilayered depiction and analysis of the passions and anguishes that come with motherhood or its absence, Bodies can leave you shaken in ways few other plays this year are likely to.
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