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Theatre Review: From Me to Us

7 June 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1098

On 3 January 2019, section 54A of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) 2008, the culmination of the 'continuous catalogue of amendments, act, and appeals' came into force. This change extended eligibility for parental orders to single parents. The impactful experience of this seemingly minute legal amendment forms the basis of Wayne Steven Jackson's autobiographical play, From Me to Us.

Jackson's performance is unassuming, as he shares the intimacy of hope. One small legal amendment allowed his dream of fatherhood to be 'no longer a hope, and more than just a possibility.'

However, Jackson was not one of the many raising a glass to the change on 3 January. He was oblivious to the law until he decided to start the process of becoming a single parent through surrogacy. Only then does he become acutely aware of the difficulties and additional hurdles, especially as he moves through them as something of a pioneer.

Surrogacy is a complex process, already fraught with potential legal complications. Jackson takes us through the additional hurdles that he faced, and will face, during the process, including the need for his case to be heard in front of a panel before he could proceed any further at the fertility clinic.

The 2008 amendments to the HFE Act extended parental order eligibility to same-sex couples – but not single parents. The idea that a single gay man would want to become a father didn't seem real to policymakers. As Jackson quotes various MPs debating the 2019 change to the HFE Act 2008, he notes how surrogacy is seen as needing two parents.

In this way, the play was not about surrogacy inasmuch as it was about family and fatherhood. Jackson is a gay, single man who wants to become a father, and this dream is not legally recognised. His play sheds light on societal expectations of parenthood, and requires the audience to confront what they imagine when they think of family.

Jackson marks various steps in his journey by referring to the number of days passed since 3 January 2019. 134 days after the law change he finds himself at the fertility clinic, and this resulted in his being the first single parent through surrogacy in the UK.

In reality, he isn't the first single father through surrogacy, he's the first to be legally recognised as such from the beginning. He shares the importance of legal recognition by telling the audience of 'Adam', a single father to two children born through surrogacy, but without legal recognition as their father. With section 54A, their birth certificates were rewritten to accurately reflect his role in their life.

Most of the play takes place on a mostly bare stage, mirroring the hollowness he surely feels without a child. The few props, a black typewriter and a box atop a table, a microphone, and a rail with six shirts, are used to guide the story, each marking an important point in his journey. Jackson tells the audience the table was from his study and how he's hopeful he won't need a study any more. He hints at the room's alternative use, but he never says it outright, as if to ensure he tempers his expectations of success.

The stage performance is accompanied by a few filmed interludes, taking the audience to a park, his home, and a supermarket. The first interlude took me by surprise, as I was expecting the entire performance to consist of Jackson on stage. However, it became clear that these cut scenes represented quite concretely 'the selection of fragments of past, present, future' made possible by the change in the law.

Jackson effectively uses repetition to direct the audience's attention to certain elements of his journey. He describes confronting an overwhelmingly heteronormative environment, where his existence and hopes are an anomaly. 'Play normal' he says, describing how society – and the law – expected him to behave.

Later, he recounts his experiences providing a sperm sample at the fertility clinic. He describes feeling unwelcome and embarrassed in a room so clearly not made for him. As a result, he contemplates 'playing normal.' Instead, he leaves and tells the receptionist about the inappropriate nature of the magazines and TV options, he feels he 'won the game.' In a world where your existence and dreams feels inconvenient to others, its impact is magnified.

The play is an incomplete letter to his future child, the child that he can now dream of, as a result of this legal change. A beautiful musical score, composed by Chris Benstead, complements Jackson's work, representing the soft stillness a child will bring to Jackson's life, symbolising the emotional impact resulting from a seemingly innocuous amendment to an act.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
From Me to Us
Battersea Arts Centre |  10 May 2021
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