It’s always an interesting experience going to a venue I’ve not been before to watch a show. I tend to keep my mind open, and my visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre was no exception. Made up of just a handful of rows, this small venue is an intimate space, one that gives Maud Dromgoole’s play the feeling that you’re sitting in on private conversations too personal to share otherwise. Inspired by the true story of Mary Barton and her husband Bertold Weisner, Mary’s Babies is a two-hander following the stories of the people born as a result of artificial insemination through the couple’s clinic. Even though at times the story is hard to follow, and some parts of the piece feel random, the play is an interesting way to imagine how such an unprecedented story could be told.
Keiran has been asked to give a eulogy at his mother’s funeral but explains why he doesn’t think he is the right person to do so. He’s just found out she’s not his biological mother, and that he was IVF conceived. After some research, he discovers the IVF clinic used a small pool of men as donors, and consequently, he has an estimated thousand half brothers and sisters. He goes on to search, find and meet a number of his siblings, or “sibs” whether they want to know about him or not.
Performers Emily Fielding and Katy Stephens (Keiran) play over a dozen characters each, and they keep the narrative moving well. Their attention to detail when it comes to the characterisation of each person they play is superb, and even the subtle differences in posture and expression are satisfying to watch. At first it does take a bit of time to get used to the different characters, but Anna Reid’s sleek design helps with this. The modern set resembles a bare living room, with a back wall full of frames with names written boldly in them. Every time a character appears on stage, their name frame lights up behind them, making it easy to keep track of the action.
While the core characters are necessary to further the action, there are some very random additions to the plot that feel out of place. A ventriloquist and his dummy turn up at one point, as well as a pair of posh boys trying to feed chocolate buttons to chickens for them to lay chocolate eggs. The purpose of these scenes seem to be to add humour to the piece, but they just come across as jarring within the larger story.
Although there are random moments of comedy Dromgoole has placed throughout the text that don’t often land, the performers do well in presenting each of the unique characters in a sympathetic way. Overall the story of Mary’s Babies itself is incredibly fascinating, which is where the play’s strengths lie.
Mary’s Babies is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 13th April.