Jemima Rooper is fearlessly funny in this sitcom-ish caper
There are times when Ben Ockrent’s ‘Breeders’ feels less like watching a play, more like being part of the live audience for the taping of an old-fashioned telly sitcom. And that’s not a terrible thing: there’s certainly a lack of pretension – one might even say aspiration – to his play that allows it to duck the wider philosophical ramifications of its premise and just concentrate on being a bit of a larf.
Tamzin Outhwaite’s Andrea and Angela Griffin’s Caroline are a high-achieving lesbian couple. They are romantically unconvincing, albeit in the way most couples in sitcoms are romantically unconvincing – not much sexual chemistry, seemingly incompatible personalities (Andrea’s a neurotic self-help guru, Caroline’s a brassy family lawyer), little real insight into how they feel and think about the world.
They – or at least Andrea – desperately want a child to complete their idyll, and in order to spawn one with both their DNA, they hit upon the idea of inseminating Caro with the sperm of Andrea’s schlubby brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns). Furthermore, Andrea invites Jimmy and his amusingly tactless girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) to move in to their spacious new house to live rent free while focussing on the task at hand. And as with every good sitcom – hijinks ensue.
Early on, my PC alarm tingled fitfully: is this really Ockrent’s story to tell? Should he or director Tamara Harvey have felt a responsibility to make the central couple seem more recognisably queer? But really, it’s all so harmless and good-natured that it seems absurd to try and work up any sort of objection.
‘Breeders’ is essentially a play about four middle-class English people stuffed into close proximity and left to go slightly mad, and while it’s frequently a bit naff, it’s generally pretty funny. An awful lot of that’s down to Jemima Rooper: one of the finest and most fearless comic stage actors we have, her total commitment to blithe, uncomplicated Sharon is a sight to behold, from the plaintive, childlike way she asks Andrea gaspingly inappropriate questions about the ‘process’ to some sublime physical business – hurling herself at the knackered Jimmy with wild-eyed fervour; delicately manoeuvring a series of boxes around the living room in a ludicrous tip-toed crouch.
Toss in Burns’s wonderfully hang-dog expressions, Outhwaite and Griffin’s general likeability and an endearingly loopy device wherein the cast sing Swedish versions of popular ’80s hits during scene changes and it all adds up to an evening that’s at worst a guilty pleasure, at best uncomplicated fun.