The Quiet House
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A couple struggles with childlessness in this gruelling drama from Gareth Farr
Gareth Farr has written two of the tensest minutes in recent theatre. Actually, make that four. Two pregnancy tests are taken during the course of this heart-rending new play about a couple struggling with infertility. We wait for the results with the characters, knuckles in our mouths and tears in our eyes.
Jess and Dylan have it good. Nice pad, involving jobs, loving relationship – and the disposable income for Jess to up the ante in the underwear department when babymaking first becomes a concerted act. But, as she tells Dylan when they decide to go for IVF, ‘there is a noise missing from this house’. That silence will gradually drown out every other aspect of their lives.
It doesn’t help that upstairs neighbour Kim has just effortlessly procreated. A deliberate quirk of the set means Kim and her baby are always visible, encroaching on Jess’s consciousness.
There’s still a stigmatic silence around infertility. We are ‘more comfortable with cancer’, Farr suggests. ‘The Quiet House’ tackles this taboo with an unwaveringly honest script and a set that makes the private public. We watch the injections, the hospital calls, the inevitable arguments. We hear Jess talk to her unconceived child and listen to Dylan’s iPod selections for critical moments in treatment. If anything can wrestle core human experience back from cold science, it’s a John Grant record.
This London transfer of Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production is supported by The London Women’s Clinic, where the playwright and his partner went through fertility treatment. You feel Farr’s experience most powerfully when Dylan finally protests at his role as the quiet support figure: ‘You get to hurt and bleed and dig deep… You get to fight and feel. I wank.’
There’s comic relief from Tom Walker (the comedian behind spoof reporter Jonathan Pie) as Dylan’s boss, but ‘The Quiet House’ is a deliberately concentrated study of how infertility consumes a relationship. Natural performances from Michelle Bonnard and Oliver Lansley show the connection at stake. You need emotional stamina to watch their intensely private dance of diminishing hope.