There are an infinite list of questions to be weighed about parenthood: Can we afford a child? Will we make good parents? Is now a good time ? Unfamiliar at Home raises some of the more difficult questions that face same-sex couples – How will my child be treated having two mums/dads? Is it right to be bringing a child into the world? Is surrogacy wrong? Will people judge me?
Unfamiliar at Home delivers a bare-all account of the journey to same-sex parenthood by performance artists (and real-life couple) Victor Esses and Yorgos Petrou. The entire performance – a follow up to an earlier piece titled Unfamiliar – is delivered online through Zoom using a four camera set up in the artists flat.
During the one-hour piece, we follow Esses and Petrou around the flat. Sometimes they are having a dialogue with one another, other times they are alone in different spaces. Physicality is used on occasion to express far more than their words. Whether in reaction to the words spoken by their partner or to the circumstances themselves, their support of each other shines through in some very tender moments.
The text is phrased almost as a conversation between the actors, speaking directly to one another and narrating their journey. However, it does not feel natural in its design. Often, it is jarringly segmented and oddly repetitive – an early scene describing the beginnings of the relationship is told through constant repetition of the word “Remember…” A quirky idea, but this becomes overused very quickly. The performers have great control of speed and pace to build tension in their words, but their delivery is emotionless. Whilst this does allow the words to speak for themselves, there is a disconnect between the performers and text which leaves me with little investment in the piece.
Throughout the performance, layered over Esses and Petrou’s movements, are some revealing recordings of interviews with people who have preceded them in parenthood. Some voices advise, some share; many raise issues that they have faced, from schooling and traveling abroad, to labels and money worries. The recordings really help reflect the wider themes of the piece beyond these two men.
Covering their relationship, from the night they first met until now, Esses and Petrou share their own stories – the family that doesn’t accept their decisions, the friends who view same-sex parenting as conforming to heteronormative ideals, their worries about how the other will deal with parenting. This is a very personal exchange which they have laid bare for us to dissect, but ultimately their lack of emotional expression and constant dwelling on the negativity of the situation, does little to inspire or challenge the audience.
There is so much I relate to within this production, and it is a journey that I am beginning to embark on myself, but it leaves me feeling despondent. The overall tone is one of despair and it gives a very cynical view at a time when positivity is needed most. Its only salvation are the far more natural and emotional accounts provided by voiceover from the interviewees.
Early on in the piece Petrou says, “I want to take my power back” – I’m not sure if he feels that he has succeeded in this. Toward the end of the performance they seem firm in making a decision together, and there certainly is a lot of power in choice.
Unfamiliar at Home is available to watch online until 25th November. For more information and to book tickets, visit Cambridge Junction’s Website.