Nina Raine
Dorfman Theatre (National Theatre)

Sam Troughton and Claudie Blakley Credit: Sarah Lee
Stephen Boxer and Claudie Blakley Credit: Sarah Lee
Brian Vernel, Sam Troughton and Claudie Blakley Credit: Sarah Lee

Watching Nina Raine's plays, there is always a strong impression that she draws far more on her own biography and that of her illustrious family than many other writers.

If that is the case, then Miss Raine, who directs her own piece, has had a tough time of late.

Stories follows the efforts of Anna (a barely concealed surrogate for Nina?) played by Claudie Blakley to beat the biological clock and become a mother before her fast-approaching 40th birthday.

Having being disappointed by the much younger and much wimpier Tom, played like all of the potential fathers by the remarkably versatile Sam Troughton, Anna decides that a sperm donor will be a far more reliable and less stressful option.

The intra-familial debates are the highlights of this production, Stephen Boxer and Margot Leicester playing the parents and Brian Vernel, her brother, all do their best to pour oil on troubled waters without inadvertently setting fire to it.

In terms of the debate, having dispensed with love as the motivating force for finding a father, the choices quickly boil down to the sperm equivalent to Internet dating, sizing up physiques and intellects via expensive (donor) match-making web sites or finding a friend or old flame who might be willing to do the necessary.

The latter proposal sounds considerably more attractive, since Anna will have a far greater knowledge of her child's father and potential weaknesses. The problem here is that nobody in her immediate or wider circle is the kind of person anybody would want to use as a clone for a gene pool.

This is where comedy takes over to rather too great an extent, as Troughton plays a series of more and more eccentric and diverse characters, most of whom are far closer to caricatures than real human beings. This gets laughs from the audience but dilutes the real pain that Anna is feeling, although many of the jokes, especially those involving value judgements delivered within the family, are very funny.

In very different ways, both Claudie Blakely, who will wring tears of pain and laughter from audience members, and Sam Troughton are admirable, while all of the supporting actors proved remarkably adaptable while playing several roles.

Jeremy Herbert's design is simple, using what is effectively a wide traverse stage, ensuring that spectators fully realise how voyeuristic this spying on a woman in distress is intended to be.

In society today, the difficulties faced by women who are unable or unwilling to choose traditional means of procreation are becoming an increasing problem. The idea of presenting their dilemmas on a stage at the National Theatre was undoubtedly far-sighted but Stories gets lost in its raison d'être, i.e. it spends too much time telling amusing little stories rather than getting to the heart of Anna's heart-rending desire to become a mother.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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