Monday, 2 July 2018

Theatre review: Genesis Inc.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the first test tube baby, Hampstead Theatre stages Genesis Inc., Jemma Kennedy’s satire of the monetisation of reproduction. The tangled plot follows two couples whose experience of the titular IVF clinic throws them together in unexpected ways: Bridget (Laura Howard) is an ambitious financier who’s had her eggs frozen there in case she wants a baby in the future, and overhears that Harry Enfield’s intermittently South African Dr Marshall wants to float the company on the stock market; she decides to pitch to represent him. Meanwhile her best friend Miles (Arthur Darvill) is a gay, Jewish music teacher who’s just got a job in a Catholic boys’ school, and has gone partly back into the closet in the belief that it’ll help him keep his job. Bridget is bearding for him, but with the fertility clinic on her mind, she wonders if the time has come for her to have a baby, and whether instead of an anonymous sperm donor she should ask Miles.

A more conventional couple are Serena (Ritu Arya) and Jeff (Oliver Alvin-Wilson,) who’ve already had a number of failed IVF attempts and are now approaching Genesis Inc. as a last resort, the most expensive clinic but the one with the most impressive statistics.

But Serena’s insistence on keeping trying is putting a strain on their relationship as well as their finances; Jeff wants them to give up and focus on the two of them, but she thinks the fact that he’s already got a daughter from a previous relationship means he doesn’t care as much as she does. Kennedy’s play is an ambitious one in both scope and tone, and as often happens in these cases the results are hit-and-miss – unfortunately erring towards the miss. The storylines are essentially relationship dramas with a darkly satirical edge, but the style and structure are much more those of a comedy, and Laurie Sansom’s production struggles to manage the difference between the tone we might be expecting and what we get.

Not that there aren’t scenes played straightforwardly for comedy – there’s a lot of dream or fantasy sequences, not least of all one where Serena’s reproductive organs start talking to her, with her mother (Shobu Kapoor) voicing her vagina – they just tend to fall flat. The devices used to further the plot can be quite heavy-handed as well: “Forgetting your conversation can be heard on a baby monitor” is already an overused trope, and here it’s quite painfully shoehorned into a situation where it doesn’t make any sense. More disappointing is that, although it’s always good to have gay characters on stage whose sexuality is incidental, with Miles it feels at best like a plot device, at worst a punchline – the idea that he’s attracted to the school chaplain (Arthur Wilson) is only really used as LOLgay in the aforementioned fantasy sequences.

The second act improves on the first, with the two stories converging as Miles starts to consider becoming a sperm donor for cash, with Serena as his first customer, but things do once again get muddled by diversions, dreams and the religious metaphor that the title implies but never quite figures out. So it’s a frustrating evening, with a lot of interesting elements – Jess Curtis designs one of the multilevel sets Hampstead has been fond of lately and gives some nice visuals, while it’s good to have Darvill use his musical abilities, performing a couple of songs – but between them Kennedy and Sansom’s inability to figure out quite what the show is meant to be leaves a good cast with only so much they can do.

Genesis Inc. by Jemma Kennedy is booking until the 28th of July at Hampstead Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.

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