Kim (Faye Maughan) is feeling the pressure to procreate. TV ads and well-meaning friends all stress the virtues of motherhood. Now she’s pushing 40 and the IVF costs are stacking up. Is it time she gave up hope?
Stuffed, a new play from first time playwright Lucy Joy Russell and actor/writer/producer Holly McFarlane, is an insightful look at the strain infertility has on Kim and her partner Jack (Ben Scheck). At times it clearly seems to have come from a place of real pain. It’s no surprise that Joy Russell has been through four cycles of IVF herself.
The play, however, brands itself as a comedy. At its weakest it’s reminiscent of a dated sitcom. Scenes are often structured like comedy sketches, especially Kim and Jack’s encounters with cartoonishly eccentric health professionals. Minor characters like McFarlane’s foot-in-mouth dinner party guest and Alexander Tol’s gawky friend are a little overdone. The banter between Kim and Jack often feels artificial, like it should be interspersed with canned laughter. A soundtrack that’s pointedly stuck in the Nineties doesn’t help either.
It’s difficult at times to say what the play is really about. We open on a packed tube carriage where Kim bumps into her friend from university Grace (Dorothy Cotter). Grace is a mother of two and her life of bustling domesticity is everything Kim wants but can’t have. We follow the two women as they attempt to reconnect, but we’re never sure as to whether Kim’s infertility or the way friends drift apart with age is the dominant theme.
Things only crystallise near the end of the play when Kim is forced to reflect on her choices after multiple failed IVF cycles. “I’ve devoted my life to a shit career,” she says. “I’ve got no real friends. No drive. No talent. I’ve got nothing anymore.” It’s only when Kim realises that the reason she craves a child is to plug other holes in her life that the play makes sense thematically.
Then we start to wish that Joy Russell and McFarlane had written a drama rather than a comedy. Kim’s bitter arguments with Jack and tearful confessions to her mother (McFarlane) are genuinely moving. A bittersweet ending also offers a way forward for Kim without neatly resolving her complex feelings.
On the whole, Stuffed is a timely reminder of the cultural importance we still place on motherhood, particularly as Mothers’ Day falls in the middle of its run. Kim is a likeable protagonist and Scheck’s portrayal of her charming, flirty husband is enjoyable too. There’s plenty of incident and director Rory Fairbairn does a lot with limited means. While choosing to tackle infertility with a lighter tone was an interesting choice, Stuffed is at its best when it is most serious.
Stuffed is playing at Jack Studio Theatre until 17 March. For more information and tickets, see http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk.