Every Second – Shannon Murphy and the race to the egg. (Theatre Review)
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
June 27 to July 27 – You can buy your tickets here.
What is it to want to give birth to a child in a world staggering under the weight of its unwanted children? Surely the problem of infertility is not childlessness, it is an inability to perpetuate one’s genes. It is about me and my DNA, not about a baby, because one of the saddest things in the world we live in, is that there are plenty of unwanted babies ripe for the picking, if one is willing to fill in the right forms. At least there are for white, monied hetro couples. So why must it be MY genes? What mythology, what imaginings, what ideology am I buying into? How completely does this rule our lives? How completely does this rule our relationships?
Every Second raises some difficult questions about the divisive journey through the minefield of infertility, particularly questions about the relationships that exist outside the hoped-for one of parent. Who is your husband or wife when they can’t make a baby with you? Who are you when that creates a problem for you? Is it possible to stop seeing the person standing before you, and instead see only a collection of test tube fragments, kept at the right temperature so that they can be blended at the ideal time? Does infertility imply weakness as if we were all dowry gifts from one gene pool to another? If infertility is a problem at all, then surely it is one of our own making, in that we place far too much importance on genetic assertion whether that be a bi-product of a scientific ideal or a spiritual one. Or perhaps, unthinkably, none of this even occurs to us, and we want a baby, mostly because we’ve always expected we’d have one, and then because everyone we know has one.
That seems to be the primary motivation for our four protagonists in Every Second. Writer Vanessa Bates’ two couples, Meg and Tim and Jen and Bill are two obsessed couples. They see other people at the park with their babies, and feel inadequate for not being “able” to “have” one. Bill and Jen are going through IVF, and Meg and Tim have just worked out that they’ve been trying for too long. Time for the tests to start, along with the inevitable competition about who has to do it the toughest, the male trying to ejaculate sperm into a cup or the woman with needlemarks all over her buttocks. Bates paints a world where sex is always according to schedule, regimented and cold couples constantly battling each other for a greater share of the thinning, sparse sympathy in the relationship. Over the top of every interaction is a thin veneer of appropriate behavior, but trembling beneath each persons surface is a desperation that is difficult to decipher. Fortunately, Bates’ script is very funny, so the overall unpleasantness of the four protagonists falls into caricature.
Despite the overall shaky ground of Every Second’s premise, this production at the Darlinghurst Theatre is excellent, and very entertaining. The four performers are strong, not taking themselves too seriously, rather bringing a lot of humour to their roles, even when the script doesn’t necessarily make as much room as it should. Andy Mc Donnell’s set design is a thing of beauty, a twisting structure that looks a little like a uterine tube or a spiral ride at a carnival. It servers as every kind of setting for the various scenarios, as well as a constant reminder our protagonists are on a circular pattern, spiraling up and down with their moods and fertility cycles. Samantha Chester takes the unusual set and creates movements for the cast, sometimes bursting into full dance (when dressed as sperm) and at others skillfully weaving their way over and around the structure. All the movement is fluid like the over analysed specimens extracted from each human in the desperate dance that is the journey to fertility. Shannon Murphy keeps the energy high, extracting the best from her fine cast, all of whom bring a wit and dignity to their roles, making whole humans of people reduced in the most real sense, to their biology. For a fertile couple in their early twenties having unprotected sex, the chance of fertility is only 25%, so this is an issue that affects many Australians. Every Second is a moment of compassionate light relief for those who might be going through this struggle.