For a full day after seeing the musical 'The Egg Rumour' at The Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham, I had the catchy jingle from the fictional egg freezing company ringing my head. Particularly the chorus of 'fun, fertility and freeeeezing', chanted by the cast. It was a heady mixture of corporate-enforced joviality alongside more persuasive messages of reproductive responsibility, which was aimed at the play's central character, Iva.
The play, written and produced by Ellamae Cieslik, explores the issue of corporate sponsored egg freezing which, following announcements by Facebook and Apple that they will fund the procedure for their staff, has been the focus of much media attention and discussion in recent years. The musical, by the Brewmakers Theatre Company, draws on an ensemble cast of six young actors, several of whom played multiple characters throughout. It follows the experience of a 20-something-year-old graduate, Iva, who is presented with the option of freezing her eggs by her employer.
Instead of choosing to focus on how Iva makes the decision to freeze her eggs, the play instead explores the context in which Iva is offered company-sponsored egg freezing. In particular, it explores how egg freezing is presented to Iva as a tool of social, economic and sexual empowerment. It also examines the motives of others involved, such as those of her employer and even her boyfriend.
I admit that before I saw the play I was expecting egg freezing to be presented with little critical discussion and thought it might even be presented as a medical solution to the social 'problem' of the timing of motherhood. As it happens, I could not have been more wrong. The play was incredibly well-researched and presented a sincerely funny, highly critical if not scathing look at egg freezing as a work perk.
I thought The Egg Rumour could even come with a warning: 'Fertility clinics, look away now'. I am sure some of the big providers and advocates of egg freezing in the UK and USA would not have looked kindly upon how Cieslik presented the technology or the motives of the companies offering it.
However, the content of the play was not alarmist, incorrect or misleading in any way. On the contrary, it presented a well thought-through look at company-sponsored egg freezing.
As this was, of course, theatre, some artistic license is allowed. The play achieved this through a highly caricatured portrayal of a male CEO who is informed that he needs to increase the number of women working in the upper echelons of his nondescript company. As a rampant sexist who admits that he only hired a woman in such a role in the past because he believed she was a lesbian, he looks for a way to satisfy his board while maximising and exploiting the work of his female staff in the same way he does his male employees.
After hearing about egg freezing from Iva's boyfriend – who it turns out has a vested interest in her making use of the technology - the CEO celebrates (through song, naturally) about how 'I can [now] get the women for as long as I need' and invites an egg freezing broker to speak to Iva over cocktails at an egg freezing party. A sceptical but timid Iva who is unsure about whether she wants to freeze her eggs is quickly bamboozled by the marketing spiel of the egg broker and the alarmist voices coming from other cast members whispering in her ears about her biological clock.
In an interesting scene, Iva tries to talk through her personal thoughts with the audience but her monologue is repeatedly interrupted by interjections calling her to: 'Lean-in, but freeze first'; 'Don't wait for Mr Right, wait for Mr Ready'; and suggestions that: 'Your eggs are chilling, your eggs are fine, have some wine!'
In a later sexy dreamscape scene, Iva attends a fertility clinic and is seduced by the doctor who offers her 'fertility insurance', 'empowerment' and 'the 21st century equivalent of the contraceptive pill', which Iva decides to pursue. However, the decision to delay motherhood doesn't sit entirely well with Iva who later becomes jealous of her co-worker's pregnancy and increasingly disillusioned with her new job which doesn't offer her the happiness she and her boyfriend thought it would.
'The Egg Rumour' is an intelligent and highly enjoyable play which presents employer-funded egg freezing well within the problematic context of neoliberal feminism alongside equally dubious discourses of empowerment, choice and reproductive liberation. Only an hour in duration (I would have welcomed more), it discusses a breadth of issues such as maternity discrimination, the commercialisation of reproduction, the timing of motherhood, men's attitudes towards fatherhood, and the negotiation of parenthood within intimate relationships. In doing so, the play raises important questions about the role of commercial vested interests in women's reproductive decisions and, as Iva suggests at the end, argues that we should be 're-designing systems, not the people within them', to better allow men and women to feel supported in pursuing parenthood at a time of their choosing.
Upcoming dates include 15 and 16 July at The Drayton Arms Theatre, London, and 6 August at The Cockpit, London.