Mary’s Babies @ Jermyn Street Theatre

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.

Mary’s Babies - Maud Dromgoole - Jermyn Street Theatre - 20th March 2019Director - Tatty Hennessy
Designer - Anna Reid
Lighting Designer - Jai Morjaria

Cast - Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens

Photo: Robert Workman

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.

Mary's Babies - Jermyn Street Theatre - Emma Fielding - photo credit - Robert Workman.jpg

Photo: Robert Workman

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.

Acorn @ The Courtyard Theatre

In this hour long dark comedy, Maud Dromgoole displaces the mythical stories of Persephone and Eurydice into the present, using these characters to explore the roles of women in modern society. Even though it starts off slowly, the striking images that appear throughout Acorn allows the play to pick up momentum, making it an enjoyable piece.

The play follows Eurydice as she prepares for her wedding day, excited to spend the rest of her life with her new husband. At the same time, Persephone, a Doctor, goes from patient to patient, trying to improve her bedside manner, which she is told she lacks. It seems as though these two women are worlds apart, but slowly their stories begin to intertwine, and when a snake-bite brings the two together, death becomes their shared destiny.

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The performance is hard to follow at first, even though Deli Segal as Persephone does her best in delivering the beginning monologue. But once the actors get into their stride, Dromgoole’s writing falls into place. Segal portrays the comedic elements of her character with strength, delivering her sarcasm brilliantly. Equally Lucy Pickles performs Eurydice’s humour with style, and it’s a joy to watch the two interact. Tatty Hennessy’s direction is fluid, which makes even the hard to understand scenes visually pleasing to watch. Additionally Tom Pearson’s projections combined with Matthew Strachan’s original score adds a sinister layer to the play, emphasising its ancient Greek influences.

In Greek mythology Persephone is the queen of the underworld, and the fact that she is presented as a doctor in the play is an unusual approach to the character, but a welcome one that challenges the concept of death. Dromgoole successfully manages to adapt the two women into a setting that makes them relatable, creating a very satsifying piece. Although it can be easy to lose track at times, the energy and imagery created by the performers makes Acorn worth your time.

Acorn is at The Courtyard Theatre until 29th October.