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Mary’s Babies (Susan Elkin reviews)

Mary’s Babies – ★★
By Maud Dromgoole. Co-produced between Jermyn Street Theatre & Oak Theatre
performance date: 20 Mar 2019
venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

LR: Mary’s Babies at Jermyn Street Theatre – Katy Stephens and Emma Fielding. Photo: Robert Workman


A child born via sperm donation is likely to have unknown half siblings and that’s the interesting topic which Maud Dromgoole’s 90-minute two-hander explores from a range of angles. Set in 2007, the play is based on the true story of fertility treatment pioneers, Mary Barton and her husband Betold Wiesner with whose sperm they impregnated up to a thousand women before destroying the evidence. And it uses many individual stories. Most people have a natural yearning to learn about their own origins and to meet people to whom they are genetically related.

All the roles are played by Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens both of whom are wonderfully naturalistic, versatile actors although Stephens fails to convince as a man especially in the opening monologue. The casting makes sense – in a sense – given that the many characters depicted are supposed to be related to each other including one married couple who, horrifyingly, turn out to be brother and sister. In another case two people discover that they are twins separated at birth.

Sadly though, the play is flawed. The short scene format and the constant role switching is messily confusing with insufficient distinction between characters so that the story telling is far from clear. Anna Reid’s rather attractively plain set includes framed names which light up on the burgundy wall behind the action to tell the audience which pair of characters they’re watching. It’s a clumsy device which doesn’t actually help much because it’s a fast paced piece and some of the episodes are so short that you’ve barely clocked who Fielding and Stephens meant to be before they’ve morphed into someone else. There’s also a gratuitous, rather grating scene with a ventriloquist’s puppet which doesn’t work theatrically or narratively.

Dromgoole’s script, however, is very funny in places as well as full of sound observations. I love the idea of someone being “still chemically enraged” after an upset and “no legacy is a rich as honesty” is a fine line.

LR: Mary’s Babies at Jermyn Street Theatre – Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens. Photo: Robert Workman

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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