Writer: Effie Samara
Director: Abigail Pickard Price
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The moral and political debates around medical intervention in fertility are highly contentious; women these days are encouraged to believe they can have it all, balancing powerful and highly influential careers, with the maternal desire to care for their children. And in the last 50 years the balance of power in the family has become increasingly equal – with fathers gradually becoming more involved in the process of pregnancy and maternity leave. Yet, as this new play by Effie Samara suggests having a baby is something that still happens solely to a woman and considers how much power she should have to use medical practices to control that process.
Antonia is a very successful and highly-respected surgeon, dedicated solely to her job at the cost of her relationships, but entirely satisfied with her life. She believes in the supreme right of medicinal practice to be used whenever necessary, even when a patient has refused treatment. Yet, encountering a young mum in the park one day she begins to want a child of her own, and unable to conceive with her husband begins to look for alternative donors – even to the fellow doctor she is accusing of malpractice.
This eighty minute play is told as a series of fairly short episodes maintaining a brisk and engaging pace throughout. It takes a short while for the audience to piece together the various parts of the story and how the characters relate, but Samara’s script shrewdly trusts the viewer’s intelligence to work out the chronology while taking note of the various debates. Dissolving between the public lecture where Antonia is verbally abused by angry female voices and the events of the past is nicely managed, giving the play a useful structure. And it uses sound and lighting effects cleverly to suggest the drama of the emergency room, a tube carriage and a local park.
Cate Cammack’s Antonia is a fascinating mass of contradictions, blending the haughty arrogance of a senior surgeon with a slightly infantilised kowtowing to her own mother that offers an interesting backstory. She’s not a figure you like exactly, although there are moments that elicit a great deal of sympathy, but her absolute certainty in her own judgement is admirable whether or not you agree with it, and Cammack nicely brings all these elements out in her performance.
Alice Haig gives distinction to multiple rôles including the young woman who is convinced to change her child’s name and the frighteningly domineering mother prepared to take extreme action to punish Antonia for giving in to the weakness of her femininity by wanting a child. Andrew Nolan plays both Antonia’s husband James and her colleague Patrick wryly suggesting the interchangeability of the men in her life – although it is never entirely explained how Patrick knows Antonia’s mother.
Baby is full of interesting debates about a woman’s right to control her body and to use any medical option available in which to do so, and it certainly has its controversial moments. Yet although we see Antonia stand by her choices regardless, the play itself isn’t quite brave enough to leave us with a universal judgement on any of these issues. It’s always engaging but by shying away from a bold statement, it leaves you a little unsatisfied at the end. Nonetheless, Samara has written a play full of pertinent questions about what it means to be a mother in modern society and how much of a right it should be.
Runs Until: 2 May