Time Out says
Hard-hitting, occasionally problematic drama about the ethical quandaries of the international baby trade
Clem’s unborn baby has four parents. Her husband. A Russian egg donor. An Indian surrogate mother. And her. Vivienne Franzmann’s unsparing new play peers into every corner of this uneasy quadrangle, analysing its ethical quandaries with mathematical precision.
The bulk of her play’s efforts fall, inevitably, on Clem. There are any number of stories about the desperate baby hunger that apparently befalls thirtysomething women – including ‘Yerma’, wittily modernised at the Young Vic last year.
Franzmann updates the setting so that Clem is a TV producer, struggling to combine her search for a baby with the demands of arranging care for her aging dad. Director Jude Christian puts her story of affluent motherhood into a modern, bleached wood-filled house, all bland luxury. But there’s still something faintly reactionary about this portrait of a woman who bursts into tears at the sight of children, who becomes suicidal each time her period arrives.
And this sense is emphasised by the path of her surrogate Lakshmi (Salma Hoque), who’s kept pent up in a medical centre run for rich Westerners. At first, she smiles and speaks in untranslated Hindi, before an insight into her world reveals that she’s an exoticised picture of female hysteria, obsessed by crows and bad omens.
Still, the boldest stroke of Franzmann’s play is its most successful one: she lets Clem’s unborn child speak. Her daughter (Hannah Rae) appears as a bolshy 16-year-old, her loyalty torn between these two equally flawed mother figures. The familiar language of mother-daughter rows becomes strange, turning into debates on how a teenager can make sense of the heartbreaking exploitation that brought her into the world. Justine Mitchell’s performance as Clem comes to life in these moments, with a convincing mix of sharpness and overwhelming love for her eloquent, angry daughter.
‘Bodies’ is a hugely ambitious piece of work, exploring how people are commodified, bought and sold. In trying to find the emotional weight behind these tough economic realities, it often resorts to well-trodden themes: female hysteria, barrenness, and clumsy metaphors of birds and nesting. But its most powerful moments are enough to sweep this clutter away.