Kim and Jack are hitting their forties and realising that they’re lacking something in life – offspring, a chance to leave a mark on the world, the joy of creating and caring for another human being. There’s one problem though – they’re unable to get pregnant despite trying every possible process and gimmick out there. From IVF to ICSI, creams and gels and special teas, nothing seems to work, which begins to strain their relationship, and friendships as well.
Stuffed has been advertised as a comedy but perhaps this is a little dismissive of it’s dramatic elements, as whilst it’s consistently funny throughout there’s also an extremely powerful emotional element to proceedings, which feel very real, very open, very honest. Thematically it covers many bases as well, as much as it is about the struggles met when attempting to become pregnant, it’s also how people treat those with children, the difficulties parents go through, and perhaps most importantly how essential it is to show and share love during arduous times.
The production is blessed with a superb cast, with some minor doubling up which the actors pull off with aplomb. Faye Maughan carries a fair amount of the emotional heavy lifting as Kim, attempting to live a normal life and deal with those who are sometimes less than kind whilst her frustration builds and builds. It’s an impressive performance, seemingly carefree at the beginning of the play but becoming increasingly and realistically frayed as life continues to be cruel. One of the reasons it’s such a convincing portrayal is due to the chemistry she shares with Ben Scheck, whose funny, charming yet clearly quite vulnerable Jack has to try and keep it all together despite his own struggles with their situation. Their relationship feels touchingly authentic, and Scheck’s superb depiction of a complex yet very sympathetic individual is captivating, especially during a particularly emotional scene towards the end of the play which I noticed brought much of the audience to tears.
Dorothy Cotter as Kim’s close friend Grace provides warm emotional support whilst being an individual in her right and not just a mother, and Cotter also provides vigorous laughs in her portrayal of a fertility Doctor whose inability to truly empathise is bleakly appalling. Grace’s well-meaning if slightly over-enthusiastic husband Colin (Alexander Tol) also turns in a first-rate performance, one which allows him to show off a gift for physical comedy, and he’s also superb at swiftly changing characters – during one scene where he swaps from the meek Colin to one of the many Doctors the couple see within sixty seconds I had to double check that it wasn’t a completely different actor.
Directed confidently with style and flair by Rory Fairbairn, the staging is effective despite the use of only a few chairs and tables, but they are efficiently used with various covers to create a variety of different environments, from a tube train to a restaurant, or a doctor’s office to a friend’s home.
My only minor quibble was that the possibilities of adoption or surrogacy were never addressed, which might have fleshed out the characters even further, but it feels churlish to complain considering how remarkable the production is, especially as it was the first work by one of the co-writers, and based on her own experiences.
Despite the bleaker elements of the play it ends on an optimistic note, one which suggests that not being able to reproduce shouldn’t define a human being and that if you so wish, there are many other ways to live a fulfilling life. It’s a message that is delivered in an empathetic and intelligent way, and which should affect all, whether you want children or not. Red Squash Theatre has created something truly special in Stuffed, which unquestionably deserves a far longer run so that it reaches a much wider audience.