DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

Giving Up Marty – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Karen Bartholomew

Director: Annie Sutton

The poster of this show is quite exciting. It states: ‘Two Identities, no identity, identity shattered – the adoption conundrum’. However, Giving Up Marty is less interesting than the poster suggests, and, while the subject matter is darker than one would expect with an adoption storyline, its characters remain underdeveloped and unbelievable.

As a child Joel knows he’s adopted but when he’s 17 it still comes as a surprise when he discovers that his birth mother wants to meet him. But this is no joyous reunion, and Joel’s not sure whether he actually likes her or not. For a start she smokes – she even persuades him to take up the habit – she has little ambition, and she’s working-class. Joel‘s been brought up in a lower middle-class family, but the difference between his two mothers is clear.

He also meets his sister too, already a mother, who takes him on a tour of the run-down and squalid places where she lived as a child: Joel is horrified. Seeing a past that could have been his unsettles his own sense of self, and he’s not quite sure who he is anymore. He asks his social worker for help.

The play is set in the ‘70s and ‘80s when adopted children and parents who gave up children for adoption had fewer rights in how they contacted each other. And the drabness of this era is summed up neatly by the plastic chairs that the cast move around the stage. But there’s something a little old-fashioned about the play too.

Both mothers are hurriedly drawn. Alexis Leighton as Joel’s adopted mother can only show her goodness through the domestic work that she is always seen doing. His birth mother, Martha, played by Dorothy Lawrence, is a little more complex, but her reliance on cigarettes seems a simplistic way to discuss the working-class. Danny Hetherington plays Joel both as a child and as a teenager, but there’s little difference between the two versions, with the older Joel still petulant and just as immature.

The cast is completed by Ugo Nelson playing the beleaguered social worker and Natasha Atkinson who plays Joel’s sister, and all have turns soliloquising to the audience ideas and thoughts that might have been better communicated through dialogue. Director Annie Sutton ensures that the narrative remains smooth but there are times when the direction could be more inventive, telling the story in less predictable ways.

Writer Karen Bartholomew wants to dispel the fairy-tale endings that the media portray when they discuss adoption, and in this she is successful. But her characters need more depth, and the play itself, a little more energy.

Runs until 15 March 2020

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