The Quiet House

Gareth Farr
Echo Presents, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Park Theatre
Park Theatre (Park 200)

Oliver Lansley as Dylan, Allyson Ava-Brown as Kim and Michelle Bonnard as Jess Credit: Graeme Braidwood
Michelle Bonnard as Jess Credit: Graeme Braidwood
Michelle Bonnard as Jess and Oliver Lansley as Dylan Credit: Graeme Braidwood
Oliver Lansley as Dylan and Tom Walker as Tony Credit: Graeme Braidwood

Jess is waiting for her hubby to come home. She is lying in newly bought sexy underwear, a deliberate turn-on, but he comes home in shock, momentarily freezing after a traumatic encountered with kids raiding a sweet shop and a possible murder. What starts off as comic goes on to be serious but that initial laughter prepares the audience for a play that is often funny as well as touchingly honest.

It is not about teenage crime, except as a reminder that not all offspring are angels. It’s about having children. A quiet house is one without them. Jess and Dylan, after five years of marriage, are still trying for a baby. Now they embark on IVF treatment and all that entails daily.

It is a drug regime involving multiple chemicals, the injection of which becomes a ritualised analogy of intercourse as Dylan pushes the hypodermic’s plunger. Director Tessa Walker makes the preparation and completion of injections into key scenes, allowing time for them to make a big impact in an often fast-moving production. Ana Inės’ Jabares-Pita provides a clean, almost surgical set with signified doors and windows that matches the play's mixture of realistic detail and imagination. A name board and a laptop turn a kitchen table into Dylan’s office and callers ring a bell at an imaginary front door without having to touch it.

Michelle Bonnard’s Jess secretly addresses the child she imagines herself having while Oliver Lansley’s Dylan invents reasons for taking his wife to the hospital and being upset at being sent abroad on business, afraid that the truth might make people think him less manly and a subject for scorn. These are touching performances that capture the investment of hope that Jess makes, her feelings at the sound of a baby, and Dylan’s feeling of impotence not only regarding his sperm count but his seeming exclusion from real participation: “I have no part in this. I wank. That’s what I do.”

We don’t discover much about this couple. Jess seems to be a freelance editor, Dylan good at whatever job he does but trying for a baby dominates their lives and the play. Neighbour Kim, struggling with her new baby and urinary urgency, and Dylan’s department head and friend Tony are there to show the side of things Jess and Dylan are ignoring. They are even more lightly sketched, but Allyson Ava-Brown and Tom Walker give them life.

While The Quiet House isn’t directly autobiographical, dramatist Farr draws on his own experience of the IVF process and its traumas. It doesn’t explore why this couple feel such a need to have a child or consider alternatives such as adoption or using those energies elsewhere, nor how to handle lack of success. It shares the tensions and traumas and the unnecessary embarrassment that such a couple might feel but it hangs onto hope and takes the audience with it.

Its effect is the more moving because it seems so obviously honest in what it presents.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton