Vivienne Franzmann
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Justine Mitchell Credit: Bronwen Sharp
Hannah Rae and Justine Mitchell Credit: Bronwen Sharp
Salma Hoque Credit: Bronwen Sharp

Since its inception, the Royal Court's purpose has been to propagate the finest new writing, ideally challenging preconceptions by encouraging intelligent debate. By that criterion, Bodies is an outstanding success, before one even begins to admire a marvellous cast, under the careful eye of director Jude Christian.

Back in the day, families were simple. Parents begat children, lived until afflicted by some serious, untreatable condition, then made way for future generations. Periodically, biology overrode the formula after which there was no choice but to accept your fate.

As one of today's most sensitive and thoughtful playwrights, Vivienne Franzmann has identified that, thanks to paradigms shifts in both medical science and communications, those givens have become outdated.

The pivotal figure in Bodies is Justine Mitchell's Clementine, a middle class TV producer who would in the past have been referred to as barren. As a result, she is also desperately unhappy, despite the rock-solid support that she receives from husband Joshua.

Heroically, due to the indisposition of Brian Ferguson, Jonathan McGuinness stepped in on opening night having been unaware of this play’s existence 36 hours beforehand and, with the crutch of a script, looked as if he had been rehearsing this major role for weeks.

Apparently, the (costly) modern solution to fertility issues is an Indian surrogate filled with a Russian (forget colour-blindness in this game) egg and Brian's enthusiastic sperm. You can even Skype the carrier, purportedly a super-happy lady making some cash on the side for a few luxuries. So far, so good.

However, life is rarely this simple, particularly for the neurotic. Clem's father, Philip Goldacre movingly playing a staunch socialist off his last legs and barely able to speak following a stroke, nobly helped by Lorna Brown in the role of the dream carer, disapproves, assuming correctly as it transpires that the Indian dream is rotten to its nightmarish core. Salma Hoque’s Lakshmi, the surrogate mother, demonstrates this with feeling as the evening develops.

Adding an unusual dimension, Clem also carries on a dialogue with Hannah Rae as a post-GCSE incarnation of the cause of all this trouble, unborn Megan, in some enlightening conversations about wombs and cynically commercial Third World clinics.

By the end of a packed 90 minutes, viewers may well feel older and wiser, having learned a great deal about the world but also the urges that make families do whatever it takes to become a parent.

Even if the play were not of the highest quality, which it is, the acting is outstanding across the board, with Justine Mitchell conveying the pain of love immaculately, even if Jonathan McGuinness deserves the greater plaudits for his bravery in ensuring that the play could go on.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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