After her critically acclaimed Consent last year, which went on to transfer to the West End, Nina Raine has returned to the National Theatre with her new play, Stories. It follows Anna (Claudie Blakely), a 39-year-old woman. With a successful career, loving family, stable home, there’s only one thing missing – a child of her own. After moronic and much younger boyfriend Tom (Sam Troughton) unexpectedly dumps her just before an IVF attempt, Anna tries to find a way to have a baby alone, toying with ideas of sperm donors, friends donating, ex-boyfriends donating, but all with little luck. Biological clock ticking, she’s stuck somewhere between an optimistic little girl and an old woman dying scared and alone, and she’s panicking. Stories is essentially Anna’s quest to conceive, and explores why and how more and more women are finding themselves in Anna’s position.
Stories is, more than anything else, bloody funny. Troughton is a chameleon, switching between playing five or so of Anna’s ex-boyfriends whom she visits to hopefully, with permission, nab some semen. He begins as the quite impressively self-centred Tom, the most recent ex. Then transforms into a troubled Irish actor, then a pretentious director offering Anna green tea from a kettle he bought “on location with Woody”, to a twat DJ turned vegetarian who is a little too eager to be involved. The string of utter knobs are hilariously written, and defined by characteristics we’ve undoubtedly all encountered before. Troughton is genuinely funny, and is a complete scene-stealer. Fitting then that during Anna’s visits, the slew of men are all unable to view this as her story, and it becomes entirely about them. Despite her decision to undertake such a huge responsibility completely alone – ironically, the men in her life still call the shots.
The cast create a supportive and loving network around Anna, specifically Stephen Boxer as her father. Old, belligerent, eating a lot of cheese and, like most dads, occasionally exclaiming slightly offensive things like “a woman’s body is hilariously basic. It’s just two thermos flasks and a rucksack,” but also the odd tender moments of genuine care and sage advice, like when he warns his daughter, “love is worrying.” These moments, along with support from her brother (Brian Vernel) and mother (Margot Leicester), make it clear just why she’s so desperate for a baby, to have a family of her own, and the unconditional love that comes with it. Witty, warm and thoroughly funny, Stories is a soft-hearted take on a relatively new dilemma for modern women.
Stories is playing at the Dorfman Theatre until 28 November. For more information and tickets, click here.