Baby Shaped Hole

Julia Hogan
24:7 Theatre Festival rehearsed reading
New Century House, Manchester
(2010)

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Delivered as a 'rehearsed reading' as a part of Manchester's 24:7 Theatre Festival, Julia Hogan's script skilfully weds gravitas and comedy as it locks horns with a serial baby-hunter, teenage pregnancy, and the haunting spectre of a gingerbread man.

An immediate word ought to be spent in praise of the cast, who on a threadbare time-and-prop-budget, fully vitalize the dialogue's wit and charm. To read and act at the same time is no small task. As it is, the actors here - lead impressively by Jake Norton as biscuit and baby hunter Liam - display a sure grasp of tone, timing and enunciation.

Superficially the plot looks simple, but within the nooks and corners of this tale about a young man desperate to be a father (an adult need brought about by a childhood lack) there are a host of untied threads. Liam's father is conspicuous in his absence; Joanne, Liam's well-meaning but preoccupied mother, takes more interest in the domestic dramas on The Johnny Kyle Show than she does the ones under her nose; Zoe, Liam's girlfriend, faces a compelling and all too real conundrum - what is a pregnant teenager to do when the doting father is desperate to keep the child?

Julia Hogan has conceived a study in ambiguity here - questions are delicately posed without the promise of answers. And so it should be, for if realist drama is to offer an imperfect mirror to life, it is apt to avoid tidy resolutions.

What elements mark this script out as a promising one? Hogan cleverly employs a kind of theatrical enjambment, with the end line of one scene being repeated, in a new context, at the beginning of the next. Allusions to influential moments in Liam's formative years are deftly and economically expressed. There is also a pleasant oddness about the writing's humour: Liam attempts to seduce Zoe with Shepherd's Pie; he feverishly trawls through the buggy pages of the catalogue; there is a clever gag about Facebook and the menstrual cycle. All evidence of a clever and quirky writer quietly going about her business.

Any complaints? Well, perhaps one. The episodic nature of the piece - it is cut into about a dozen short scenes - was, on this occasion, well served by the paucity of props and scenery. However, if the play were to be staged more comprehensively, the volume of scenes might be to the detriment of the play's otherwise secure pacing. Were the scenes congealed somehow, into three or four longer ones, the piece might be lent a helpful measure of urgency and intensity. A further, albeit minor, quibble. Liam's swearing is perhaps overdone. The odd expletive, if shrewdly employed, can work perfectly well on stage. When a character (and by association writer) exploits this trick too often, one starts to desire some more imaginative and cunning outbursts.

In sum: a taut, comic and at times compelling script delivered with considerable expertise.

Reviewer: Ben Aitken