Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Theatre review: Breeders

Opening a new season for young producers at the St James Theatre is Ben Ockrent's new play Breeders, an appealing sitcom with a strong comedy cast. Self-help book writer Andrea (Tamzin Outhwaite) and family lawyer Caroline (Angela Griffin) are a well-off lesbian couple who've recently got married and bought a large fixer-upper house together, but with their biological clocks ticking they're starting to wish for a family to fill it with. Andrea's dream is that they can have what a straight couple does, a baby that shares both parents' DNA, but the only way to do that is for her brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns) to be the sperm donor for Caro's pregnancy. He says yes, but when they can't agree over what his legal rights to the child will be the plan changes: He and his girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) will move in with the couple and they'll all raise the child together.

First, though, they actually need a baby to raise, and most of Breeders is concerned with the comedy and stresses of artificial insemination, while the characters question their motivation for even doing this in the first place.

Ockrent has been lucky to land such a strong comedy cast, but he's given them some great lines to begin with. Jan said sometimes the old lines are the funniest (Caro thinks using a bag of flour as a "practice" baby will be easy "because it's self-raising") but I also enjoyed Ockrent providing quite an original comic viewpoint at times (when the boiler packs in and Caro wears multiple layers of coats, Sharon asks her if she's been training an attack dog.)

Tamara Harvey's production is well-paced, never really letting the interest sag, with James Perkins' scaffolding set also joining in the action at times. It also keeps the comedy up during the scene changes, an early mention of Jimmy and Andrea's Swedish ancestry leading to a running gag where the cast perform Swedish covers of '80s pop hits; it's also a nicely subtle way to emphasize one of the story's ongoing themes, that Sharon, who can only sing along in English, feels increasingly like an outsider in the family.

Although mainly played for laughs the show's second act does delve a bit further into the characters, Andrea's desperation for a child becoming all-consuming and having a knock-on effect on all around her. But for the most part this is memorable as a very funny evening about how what constitutes a family isn't set in stone, and the best-laid plans can't compete with families that come together by accident.

Breeders by Ben Ockrent is booking until the 4th of October at the St James Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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