by Jane Cafarella
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2JH to 30 November 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. One interval.
Runs 1 hr 55 mins.
TICKETS: 0333 666 3366.
Strongly acted this award winning Australian play about surrogates and would be parents who use them is getting its UK premiere, having started off here as a rehearsed reading at London’s So & So Arts Club in 2015. Nellie (Rachel Bellis) is a warm hearted Massachusetts mother of two who decides to offer herself as a surrogate – the money would come in useful and her husband does not object. Catherine (Kat-Anne Rogers) is an international lawyer, Australian but sounds English, dedicated to her career but at the stage in her life when her failure to have children and her wish to have a child are dominating her emotions. She is tough, controlling and hard to like. Being a lawyer she treats the association with Kat as a business affair – every angle is covered, the contract is water tight. But she does want to know the surrogate a little and the two women meet during the progress of the pregnancy when Catherine is in New York or when Nellie – and it is a thrill for her – gets up to town to see how the other half lives. Nellie keeps a blog of the affair and this is shown on a screen at the back of the stage in between scenes with the two women. Nellie discovers she is pregnant with triplets, something Catherine takes in her stride, and then things start to go wrong.
The two are anything but sisters under the skin. Catherine may want desperately to be a mother, but has no intention of giving up her career – there will be a nanny – and treats it all as a legal contract by which Nellie is bound under which she has rights she will enforce as to what happens during the pregnancy and the birth. What Nellie wants is neither here nor there. Nellie, a good Catholic, thinks she is doing God’s work helping someone have a child and is scorned by her relatives for what she is doing. She is also pro-life so when things go wrong abortion is not an option.
Their story is told in a series of tiny scenes, sometimes they are together, sometimes are in front of their lap tops talking on Skype. It works well enough, although the effect is slightly patchy as some scenes work better than others. The interruptions of the blog are effective as they do throw light on Nellie’s attitude to life, a light denied to Catherine who emerges, perhaps unfairly, as very unsympathetic. Or perhaps not, as just how cold deep down she is we discover at the end.
Surrogacy is common enough today and the play is a fascinating look at the whole issue, at the complex human relations involved – Nellie simply cannot stop herself from feeling there is a bond she wants to keep with the baby, one Catherine has no intention of allowing to grow. The play has been effectively directed by Pamela Schermann, who has been with it since its rehearsed reading days. But at just under two hours it could arguably do with some cutting. The workshop process may well have produced too many ideas. But in its present form it is a provocative, informative and moving piece. There may be tears, but Catherine’s impossible behaviour and Nellie’s plain spoken style also provide some laughter amid the tears. One choice moment is when Nellie, who is planning to do it again, decides that next time being a surrogate for a couple of gays would be better than the likes of steely Catherine – and a lot less trouble.
Catherine: Kat=-Anne Rogers.
Nellie: Rachel Bellis.
Director: Pamela Schermann.
Set & Costume Designer: Isabella Van Braeckel.
Lighting Designer: Charli Hurford.
Sound Designer: Ellen Kruger.
Videography Consultant: Nathan Allcock.
Technical Operator: Louie Renna.
Production Photographs: Anne Koerber.