Jane Cararella’s play about surrogacy looks at the conflict when giving life becomes a transaction. Catherine (Kat-Anne Rogers) has hit the point of last resort, after 11 years, 18 IVF cycles in 4 countries she is now willing to spend £30k plus for another woman to carry her and husband Harry’s embryo. This isn’t your standard purchase and personalities and lifestyles clash.
The surrogate, Massachusetts native Nellie (Rachael Bellis) is a mother of two small boys who offers her womb as a Christian endeavour; she enjoyed being pregnant and could do with the tax-free compensation. Win-win for both ladies? The internet and Catherine’s work in New York frequently bring the women together and on paper it seems the ideal arrangement.
Whilst I found Cararella’s story telling and dialogue to be convincing I struggled with the early set up of conflict as the Christian, pro-life Nellie signed a contract saying she would abort if the baby or her life was put at harm and the control freak Catherine was adamant this should be in the contract. You can see where the drama will occur and it just felt like it was going towards inevitable key plot points rather than unravelling naturally. On a personal level I am not maternal, I don’t long to be a mother at all costs from financial to hormonal. Even the idea of carrying a baby and giving him/her up at the end didn’t seem worth the emotional turmoil. Nellie constantly refers to herself as “an oven” for Harry and Catherine’s bun but she still has to go through emotional turmoil, issues at work and physical problems for a baby she won’t even get to raise.
It is a natural story of maternal instinct and wanting to do good for someone else but I also struggled to like either character. Both made bad decisions, neither seemed prepared for the emotional impact or personality clashes. Catherine wanted to control Nellie’s diet, Nellie was dealing with judgement for her unnatural act and her husband’s hostility. Once the baby is born and the transaction is complete then there is no further relationship.
The performances from Bellis and Rogers are compelling in this empathetic rather than sympathetic look at surrogacy, still a relatively new idea that is banned in the UK. It is also a raw look at fertility and class (and US insurance policies) Bellis as a outgoing, working class Catholic mother and Rogers as uptight, financially secure British woman juggling her career and desire to be a mother (though like many plays it never explores why; she doesn’t display any maternal instinct apart from an interest in baby clothes. She very much wants a baby, not a child) Cafarella on the surface is sympathetic but neither is treated as a Saint as the baby becomes currency as much as the money that changes hands. The play is aided by videography from Nathan Allcock, Isabelle Van Braeckel ‘s set and costume design which manages to deal with the play’ s scenes set in two homes, one hospital and a coffee shop. The transatlantic setting and long period of time could have been clunky and awkward but Pamela Scchermann’s direction and use of video kept this play moving along. It is an intriguing production about modern motherhood.
E-Baby is on until 30 November 2019 https://brockleyjack.co.uk/jackstudio-entry/e-baby/