Barry McStay
Gabriella Sills Productions
King's Head Theatre

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Breeding by Barry McStay is less about breeding and more about bureaucracy. How do you navigate the complicated and imperfect process of trying to adopt when you're gay?

That's the journey of Zeb (Daniel Nicholson) and Eoin (Barry Mc Stay), who embark on their quest for the perfect family and the perfect life. For many, this path can be relatively smooth—for others, like Zeba and Eoin, there's a sense it's not geared up for people 'like them'. After all, Zeb retorts, if you're straight then there are no questions from officials or judgment from 'experts' about your suitability. That's the frustration for Zeb who is resentful of the intrusion by Southwark Council social worker Beth played by Aamira Challenger.

The boys' relationship starts like so many, with a flirty encounter in a busy bar. They bond over the weird spelling of both their names, but this banter quickly moves to something more passionate. Fast forward two years and the lads are married. Everything seems to be going to plan—Eoin's plan at least. From there, the play jumps around a bit—at times this is confusing, while at others the transitions are more logical and explicit. Lighting designer Ryan Joseph-Stafford uses coloured lights under the stage's glass floor and various top lights to guide the audience through these transitions. Without this clever and helpful nod, there could have been the risk of serious confusion.

There's an underlying sense that not all is as it seems from the start, and for this reason, McStay succeeds in keeping the audience intrigued about what the future holds. Will they become daddy and daddy or won't they? Ultimately, that’s the question, and for much of the play there's serious tension that it genuinely could go either way. McStay as Eoin is adorable and captures the real craving some must have who want to be a parent. Nicholson is annoying at the beginning as a smart-arse who is full of self-importance. Fortunately, that's intentional and the journey we go on with Zeb is much more of a rollercoaster. He manages these ups and downs brilliantly and this helps drive Breeding along.

Also pushing the narrative is Beth—as their social worker, she's part-narrator, part-friend, part-foe. Unfortunately, all these parts don't quite make up a whole character—the gaps are frustrating given the important position she finds herself in. For a second time, we're left asking, what lengths would you go to in order to become a parent?

Breeding is both moving and funny with all the ingredients to keep an audience engrossed for 70 minutes. It stumbles at the end and sort of teeters out. But despite that, there's no doubt this is an important subject and certainly left me feeling frustrated and angry by a system that seems totally inadequate for a world where gay couples can and are actively encouraged to become parents.

Breeding headlines the second season of the King’s Head’s Takeover initiative which is curated by playwright, actor and director Tom Ratcliffe.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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