Mary’s Babies by Maud Dromgoole. Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1Y. 2** William Russell

By Maud Dromgoole.
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 63J to
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3,30pm.
Runs 90 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2835
Review: William Russell 23 March

Other people’s babies

In the 1940s Mary Barton and her husband, Bertold Wiesner, ran a clinic in London where they provided sperm from would be donors for women seeking pregnancy. In the event it seemed that Wiesner provided rather more of it than he should and was wise – he was apparently responsible for some 600 babies. Things have moved on, the law has changed, and it could not happen now. The problem his distinctly odd behaviour caused was that it could be possible for children in what became known as Barton’s brood to meet and marry unaware they were siblings with results that could be most unfortunate. It is a strange subject for a play, but Maud Dromgoole has researched the subject in consultation with the Donor Conception Network and there seems no reason to doubt the contents of the text -. some stories are true in essence, some have been imagined – and the play is a work of fiction, no characters being based on real people.
If the subject is tricky the production does not help. The set is stark and clinical with just a couple of ottomans for furniture, with the result that one is in limbo throughout. Another problem is that the multitude of roles regardless of sex are played by two actors (female) who, while undeniably talented, do not get the material to create individuals and end up sounding much the same throughout. They also wear the same unisex clothes so there is no help there. In spite of the names of who they are playing being flashed up behind them in illuminated framed pictures it is never clear who anybody is.
For Ms Dromgoole, her director Tatty Hennessy, and her actors Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens it was apparently a labour of love but that still does not make it good, stimulating, exciting questioning theatre. On the page it may have sounded interesting. On stage it was anything but. The patchy script lacks tension, the stories are skimpy to say the least and the actors fail repeatedly to create distinct individuals – they remain resolutely their rather boring selves – it all ends up seeming dreadfully Sapphic, which is not what was intended. Maybe it is an evening for feminists only. For others it could class as a waste of time.

Emma Fielding: Caroline, Ethel, Rita, James, Suzie, Registrar, Henry, Greta, Hannah, Charlotte, Milly, Liberty, Gertie, Rachel, Celia, Susan, Luke, Marcus.
Katy Stephens: Kieran, Bret, Gracie, Sophie, Rebecca, Ventriloquist, Tom, Sarah, Linda, Michael, Joseph, Harry, Verity, Jack, John, Lizzie, Kate, Paul, Sam, Peter, Eric, Emma, Keith.

Director: Tatty Hennessy.
Designer: Anna Reid.
Lighting Designer: Jai Morjaria,
Sound Designer: Yvonne Gilbert.
Production Photographs: Robert Workman.

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