Breeding – King’s Head Theatre, London

Reviewer: Serafina Cusack

Writer: Barry McStay

Director: Tom Ratcliffe

Adoption is an intrusive process. What some couples can achieve by accident, others have to undertake gruelling and invasive bureaucratic procedures just to be deemed ‘appropriate’ enough to be considered parenthood. Breeding follows two affluent gay men, looking to start the next chapter of their life after having a fairytale start.

Written by Barry McStay, Breeding dips its toe into the cold pool of adoption, aiming to dissect the intrusive process it entails. However, despite its thematic ambitions, the play struggles to intrude fully into the process in the same way. The potential narrative is heavily sanitised, by the couple’s privilege (owned property in central London, loving and supportive parents, university education, both being white, all things that can often unfairly get in the way of caring prospective parents) and rock-steady but sparkless relationship The lack of chemistry between Zeb (Dan Nicholson) and Eoin (Barry McStay) is palpable and unforgiving. Questions are raised about the casting of the writer in a lead role, a decision that often requires additional justification, as McStay gives a perfunctory performance that gives little for Nicholson to play with. Although a much more authentic performance is given by Nicholson, both actors struggle to reach any real emotional height.

Yet, amidst its shortcomings, Breeding exhibits commendable pacing, skillfully navigating through its narrative beats in a satisfying, albeit somewhat mechanical manner, the script is commercially funny and engaging throughout. However, McStay’s writing, while well-executed, lacks a distinctive style, failing to transcend its thematic complexities into a palpable real-life experience. Despite grappling with knotted themes, the play’s execution feels somewhat detached, preventing it from resonating deeply with its audience. Glaring plot holes in the unprofessional relationship between the protagonists and Beth, the social worker played by Nemide May, while perhaps intended to serve a narrative purpose, ultimately detract from the believability and satisfaction of the play’s conclusion.

On a brighter note, the production’s visual and auditory elements shine brightly. Ruby Law’s set and costume design are nothing short of fantastic, offering a playful and well-conceived backdrop that enhances the narrative’s depth. From Eoin’s dishevelled appearance to Zeb’s crisp Uniqlo t-shirt, the characterizations are immediately discernible, adding layers to their personalities. Additionally, the seamless integration of Rachel Sampley’s lighting and Jac Cooper’s sound design lends the production a high-budget slickness, showcasing impressive craftsmanship.

Runs until 14 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Playful yet gentle

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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