By Sophie NL Besse
Produced by PSYCHEdelight
Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW
20-24 January 2015
One drizzly Thursday evening, Sarah Norcross and I travelled down to Battersea for dinner and a show. 'The Empty Frame' by the PSYCHEdelight theatre company was billed as an edgy and controversial play. But, while the dinner and company did not disappoint, the play left a lot to be desired.
Written, directed by and starring Sophie NL Besse, the play was a two-hander with actor Mark Gray, and follows a couple who are struggling to conceive.
After years of waiting for her older husband to be ready for children, Sophie's character, a French photographer, finds that - at the age of 37 - her fertility window is closing quickly. The couple have IVF and then go through the trauma of a miscarriage. They then battle over the path of adoption and the need, or otherwise, to have a genetic link with their child.
The blurb accompanying the play gives an insight into Besse's mindset: 'People can often be put off by the themes of my play’. She believes the reasons she is attracted to the 'Deep Serious Stuff' is that she is a psychologist, but she does not think this stops the piece being 'beautiful, fun and sexy'.
Part of the problem is that many of the issues surroundings infertility are hardly controversial anymore, nor are they a subject on the fringes of the society. Infertility is a theme that playwrights and directors have widely considered as a part of our society. For BioNews I have written reviews on many TV shows and plays touching on the issue. The play shouts that it is controversial but, in reality, it covers themes that - apart from a disturbingly awkward sex scene between the pair which showed their sexual awakening after struggling with a lack of intimacy while going through IVF - would be more than acceptable in a pre-watershed drama.
Thirty years on from the birth of Louise Brown, the public don't find IVF controversial. Nor is couple with an age gap controversial (unless, of course, you are Stephen Fry). The content of 'The Empty Frame' is even less contentious when compared to the complex relations explored in the play 'Breeders', also reviewed in BioNews 773.
In an attempt to avoid stereotypes and cliché, the play in fact ends up making the characters clichéd. This is not to say the actors did not give an excellent performance and portray the raw emotions felt. There were many moments in the play which were genuine and engaging, but these were disjointed and spoiled by over-dramatisation. Some scenes did seem to reflect the feelings of people who undergo IVF quite realistically and demonstrated the research done by Besse with CARE Fertility.
Finally, the play used odd puppets in places, the worst example of which was in the dramatisation of the couple tight-rope walking through the adoption process. At least the director avoided the obvious analogy of a rollercoaster. And, the less I can say about the arrival of the stalk, the more chance I have of suppressing the memory.
In summary, I feel the play, while covering the emotions of the infertility well, did not go into any previously unexplored territory or bring any new perspective on the issues raised. Nor could I say that watching it was anything approaching fun.