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Theatre Review: Firing Blanks

27 September 2010
Appeared in BioNews 577

FIRING BLANKS, Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden from 20 September to 2 October

Donor conception and ducks. Yes, it is an odd combination but, as Tom Spencer says, sometimes things need to be looked at in new ways. The play has a refreshingly simple format that directly contrasts with the complicated issues usually surrounding infertility and donor conception.

There's Richard, the newly infertile man, Kate, the naive and spirited teenager and there's us, the ducks, but we just float, listening to his honest and heartfelt story, and enjoying the occasional offering of seed. Not bread. Bread is bad for ducks.

'Firing Blanks' attacks the core of every man's struggle with infertility: the initial shock of the diagnosis, the feelings of inadequacy, and the unshakeable guilt he has let his wife down by failing in the only function 'men are good for'.

Richard, like the typical man, finds it difficult to talk about these personal issues to his wife, his doctor or his counsellors. Yet, somehow, he finds comfort and solace in rambling to an innocent teenager on a park bench, and to the ducks. Despite his inner battle with the meaning of heritage, Richard decides to use donor sperm to give his wife the child she longs for. He also decides he won't tell his daughter of her donor roots.

At this point Kate, who has listened intently and interrupted only to offer inane facts about the ducks, takes offence. The basic messages of morality emerge from somewhere within her young, quirky and generally immature character. Her words are hard hitting; you shouldn't lie to your children. Donor conception doesn't make you any less of a 'real' man; a 'real' man tells the truth and doesn't attempt to pass off someone else's work as his own.

Upon the birth of his beautiful baby girl, Richard finally sees the simplicity of it all. He's infertile and it doesn't matter. He's a Dad. And he'll tell his daughter how she came into the world as soon as she's able to understand.

Tom Spencer's own personal insight into this subject is clear. As a donor-conceived child, Tom values his parents' honesty and candour. He has found from his research that donor-conceived children who learn of their heritage later in life receive a crushing blow and are left with painful holes.

There is one final message to take away from this production - sperm donors are brave and admirable men, allowing their genetic material to be used by other couples despite the removal of donor anonymity. To Richard, and indeed Tom Spencer himself, the invaluable gift of gametes has defined their lives.

Tom Spencer's script is filled with funny and delightful moments, truly capturing the essence of donor conception in a touching, sensitive and thought-provoking manner. With all tickets under £12 and a convenient Covent Garden location, this hour-long play is not to be missed.

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