I do not approach Don’t Ask Don’t Get, Baby with high expectations – I blame the cringe-worthy title for this. However, within moments of it beginning, I am proved wrong.
As a writer, director, producer and actor, Alice Underwood shines. It is astounding that a low-budget, one-person show can feel so polished. There is not a moment of awkwardness or filler, so often the blight of solo shows, and this is a tribute to Underwood’s writing and energy as a performer.
Don’t Ask Don’t Get, Baby is an autobiographical account of Underwood’s struggle to come to terms with her unlikely existence. At the age of eight, ‘Alice’ learns that she is a ‘test-tube baby’, or, more accurately, that she has been conceived through IVF. Later, she discovers that she is not biologically related to the person she calls ‘Mum’, and that 50% of her genes will remain forever a mystery, as the egg donor her parents used has elected to stay anonymous. This revelation, or ‘gaining of a loss’ as Underwood describes it, prompts a philosophical exploration of what it means to be a family, grounded in teenage angst.
Underwood’s performance is what really holds this play together. She is immediately likeable and performs with an enthusiasm that teeters on the brink of over-acting but is saved by her absolute sincerity. Both as a child and as a teenager she is convincing, managing to convey her age without relying on costume or irritating voices. Following an uncomfortable moment in class, a choreographed sequence which leaves Underwood twitching on the floor is a whisker away from drama-school hysteria, but her conviction again transforms this into a wonderfully jarring display of emotion. It is a wise decision, however, to keep the play under 45 minutes; any longer and Underwood’s solo performance might begin to feel wearing without another presence on stage to ease the pressure of the Alice-to-audience relationship. Underwood might have boundless energy but, through her continual use of direct address, she expects a lot of her audience too.
It is a shame, nonetheless, that Underwood does not take time to dive deeper into the complexities of IVF; moral dilemmas such as embryonic testing and a person’s right to know their biological parents are alluded to, but never fully explored. Likewise, Alice’s relationship with her mum, the woman who bore and raised her, could be expanded upon. Having only one storyteller leaves Underwood with the difficulty of being able to show relationships from a single perspective. How did Alice’s mum feel carrying a child that was not biologically her own? What was it like to invite a third, unknown person into the creation of her child? What were her fears in explaining her choice to her young daughter?
Despite its limitations, Don’t Ask Don’t Get, Baby remains a gripping, touchingly intimate piece of theatre. Underwood’s humour, both in her writing and performance, keeps the tone of the play light, whilst still being informative. Donor-conception is not a subject most of us have cause to think about, but Underwood reveals what a huge role it can play in someone’s life, long after birth. More than this, Underwood plucks at the complex strings that weave families together, reminding us that we are all much more than our biology.
Don’t Ask Don’t Get, Baby played at The Space On Demand until 24 July 2021. For more information go to The Space’s website.