Baby, Hope Theatre - Review

After their last evocative, issue-based play (Anna Weiss) KiteHigh Theatre have certainly kept the momentum going, if not stepped up a gear with their latest production of Baby. Written by up-and-coming playwright Effie Samara, director Abigail Pickard Price deftly explores the pressures for and against having a baby and its relationship to self-image and womanhood.

Dr Antonia Innes-Kerr (perfectly cast and played by Cate Cammack) is an exemplary cardiovascular surgeon with a successful career, husband and an envious collection of tailor-made suits from Saville Row. However, for all of her status and sense of accomplishment, the ‘rite of passage’ of bearing a child, fills her every thought.

Adopting a narrative structure similar to Kurt Vonnegur's novel Slaughterhouse-Five where the narrative jumps back and forth between past, present and future, we piece together how Antonia progresses from her initial ambivalence to children, to desiring and conceiving a child against all the odds.

Complications in Antonia’s life are compounded by the fact that the colleague who she’s officially reported for neglecting his patient is also someone who she’s had a past relationship with and probably also her best chance of  conceiving a child, seeing as her husband is infertile.

One of the things one notices when watching the play is how well-written the characters are. Antonia is a driven individual and extremely knowledgeable about (physical) matters of the heart. However, Antonia’s also in many ways not worldly-wise and it takes a friendship with a young mother for her to realise there are gaps in her knowledge about life and that she doesn’t quite know how she feels about motherhood.

Antonia’s mother is another conflicted figure, even more so than her offspring. Out of love for her husband she set aside her own medical career. This, however, has gnawed away at her her whole life and she makes certain her daughter doesn’t sacrifice ‘what she was meant to’ do for ‘sentimentality’. She’s also passionate about women’s empowerment and in one particular speech, lays down the gauntlet for all women to break through the barriers that hitherto have kept them from their full potential – a lesson learnt from bitter experience.

Playing Antonia’s mother, as well as all the other female characters (bar Antonia), Alice Haig shows her mettle as a character actress. With the quickest of changes, she assumes the roles of Persephone, Nurse Sonia and Prof. Dawson – all very different from each other, but equally distinctive and believable.

In terms of conflict, Samara isn’t afraid to address the ramifications of making personal choices that fly in the face of convention. When Antonia in the future talks to her students and peers, and her private life becomes the topic of conversation, there are those who voice their alarm that she conceived a child without her husband’s consent; that her ‘interpretation’ of sexual freedom (in their opinion) has done women in general a disservice; and that her actions are grossly 'out of step with Fourth Wave Feminism'. Antonia explains calmly the reasoning behind her actions, but it’s obvious that the adverse reactions she faces are emotionally-centred rather than an intellectual challenge.

Within the play, the name ‘Iphgenia’ is mentioned, a figure in Greek myth who against her wishes was sacrificed by her father to appease the gods. Of course the parallels to the myth are obvious, with sacrificing one’s desires for ‘the greater good’, but Antonia is nobody’s scapegoat and by no measure a victim. It’s through the dying wish of a patient that she has her epiphany - that when it comes to her body, a woman always has the right to self-determination. This will always sit uneasily with the body politic, but if they have the final say, what chance is there for the individual’s happiness?

Baby is a riveting play from beginning to end, as entertaining as it thought-provoking. Kudos to KiteHigh and Hope Theatre on such a well-rounded production.

© Michael Davis

Baby runs at the Hope Theatre until 2nd May 2015

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