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Theatre Review: Breeders

29 September 2014
Appeared in BioNews 773

This fast-paced comedy written by Ben Ockrent and directed by Tamara Harvey boasts an impressive cast, and deals with its themes in an honest and intelligent way.

The play follows the minor power couple Andrea and Caroline. Andrea, played by Tamzin Outhwaite, is the author of some amusingly named self-help books. She has just moved in to a large home with long-term partner Caroline (Angela Griffin), a successful family law solicitor who has just been made partner. It seems they have it all but there's still one thing they really want - a baby.

Andrea wants a child genetically linked to both of them, and one boozy Christmas the couple asks Andrea's underachieving brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns) to be their sperm donor. At which point, Jimmy's doubtful girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) is also added to the mix.

Along the way there are Swedish covers of 80s pop; a stitch-inducing rendition of Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' by Jemima Rooper had me in physical pain from laughter.

The performance got off to a bumpy start with some technical issues, but this only served to get the audience behind the actors. The cast were excellent, and the intimate nature of the staging at the St. James Theatre made me feel as if I were there in the living room with them. While this play may be categorised as comedy, it was much more than that, and although it explored the underlying humour to be found in heightened emotional states, the humour didn't detract from the drama. There were several moments where I had both kinds of tears in my eyes.

Tamzin Outhwaite gave a particularly powerful performance as obsessive Andrea spearheading the conception campaign and forcing both Caroline and Jimmy into ever-more ridiculous fertility-boosting regimes. The play showed not just how hard conception can be practically but also the toll that trying to conceive can take on family finances and on relationships.

The play's tag-line is 'the path to parenthood isn't always straight', playing up Caroline and Andrea's relationship, but that is only part of the story. During a break in their relationship Sharon has a one-night-stand and becomes pregnant; what ensues shows that parenthood isn't easy or simple for anyone, not just gay couples, and that modern family life is complex.

As regular readers will know, it's rare of me to give such a favourable review. So it'd be unusual if I didn't mention that the first half is a touch on the slow side and its humour too reliant on the practicalities of sperm sample production.

'Breeders' is on a very limited run of just over month, so if you want to see it - and I think you should - book now!

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