“As soon as we have our little girl, everything will make sense. As soon as you hold her in your arms, it will all make sense.”
Between this and Yerma, theatreland would have us firmly believe that to be a childless woman in her 30s, or rather a woman wanting a child, is to be on the precipice of madness. I have liked, nay loved, much of Vivienne Franzmann’s work (Mogadishu, The Witness, Pests) but with Bodies, her sure touch in delving into the trickier aspects of human nature doesn’t quite feel as insightful.
Clem has tried several times to carry a child to term but sadly miscarried on every occasion and so, with husband Josh, has turned to surrogacy. Finding the right, white Russian egg donor and the perfect Indian surrogate womb does not come cheap and as Franzmann explores, it is a cost that is as much moral and emotional as it is financial – the ethics of this ‘business’ murky indeed.
Jude Christian’s production cycles round these key players, also throwing in Clem’s father David who is dying of Motor Neurone Disease, in Gabriella Slade’s elegant set, from which spouts a whole raft of challenging ideas. An unreconstructed socialist, David is severely disapproving of his daughter’s plans and their scenes debating whether this extent to which this whole process is exploitative are most powerful.
It’s a discussion which is continued inventively by Franzmann by having Justine Mitchell’s excellent Clem interact with an imaginary version of her daughter (an impressive Hannah Rae), parsing all of the arguments for and against. Less successful is the representation of Third World womanhood in the form of Lakshmi, the creeping horror of the slow reveal of her circumstances undermined by a regressive choice in the writing.
And this is a clunkiness that reappears, whether in the impossibly-good conveniently-clever carer (played superbly by Lorna Brown) who Clem employs to look after her father – another, different, form of surrogacy – or in the heavy-handed metaphors threaded throughout. I felt Bodies was a good rather than a great play.