Tom Morton-Smith’s new play In Doggerland, is a tentative step towards exploring the lasting effects of organ donation – both the emotional upheaval facing the family and friends of all parties involved, and the potentially traumatic psychological adjustments that the recipient has to go through. Morton-Smith introduces this little-discussed subject matter with warmth and intelligence, addressing a tale of loss and uncertainty with a sympathetic tone that meets moments of humour in relatable and familiar family conversations.
21-year-old photography-obsessed Marnie, who was born with a heart defect and has spent most of her life waiting on tenterhooks for a suitable donor, is now struggling to deal with the burden of carrying the heart of her donor and is desperately in need of closure. With her brother, Linus, she seeks out her donor’s father in a small seaside town where houses are gradually falling away into the sea as the cliff is slowly eroded. What happens next is a tale deeply layered with loss and a sense of guilt – estate-agent Simon is still suffering from the premature death of his wife, as well as the loss of one of his twin daughters in a car accident in which he was driving, and to top it all off, his house no longer stands by the cliff edge but has fallen away to become rubble.
In Doggerland is well-executed by Box of Tricks, a Manchester-based company which specialises in new writing. Jennifer Tan’s Marnie has a natural child-like air; she is both inquisitive and obstinately certain about her beliefs – she doesn’t believe in cell memory yet is still determined she needs to seek out her donor’s family to say goodbye – which is most likely indicative of the lack of independence she has had from relying on her older brother for years. Benjamin Blyth gives a touching performance as Linus, who steals a few hours of freedom away from Marnie to follow and meet Kelly (Natalie Grady), Simon’s (Clive Moore) only surviving daughter. Grady and Moore play out the strained relationship between father and daughter tenderly and with a raw openness – no facet of their inability to cope is hidden from us.
Philosophical, attentive and poetic, Morton-Smith has set up a complex tale of the fragility of identity and the burden of loss. It would be easy to venture down a melodramatic route with such a subject matter as organ donation, yet this is skilfully avoided with a focus on a rather unexpected storyline that is all the more resonant because of this. Direction from Hannah Tyrell-Pinder is static at times, particularly when moving between the final few scenes, yet on the whole the minimal design by Rachel Wingate is navigated smoothly in an absorbing production.
In Doggerland is currently touring. For more information and tickets, see the Box of Tricks website.