Review: Birth Right at the Calder Theatre
Written for Calder Theatre
Three women find out, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that they’re pregnant. In the next 75 minutes, Doll’s Eye Theatre’s Birth Right takes us through the ups and downs of pregnancy, from One Born Every Minute to interfering strangers. Kay’s unplanned pregnancy threatens to mess up her plans to attend university; Sal finds herself overwhelmed by the amount of advice for expecting mothers; and Donna navigates the perils of being a woman of ‘advanced maternal age’.
Doll’s Eye artistic director Amy Ewbank, co-directing with Charlotte Everest as well as playing Donna, is also responsible for the script, which is based on interviews with mothers and midwives. Admittedly I have no experience and very little knowledge of pregnancy and all it entails, but the attention to detail and sometimes painfully honest observations certainly feel very genuine, showing the care and dedication taken with this process. The women’s stories are often moving, but also funny in their frankness, from Kay’s friend Jessica gleeful conclusion that Kay is growing a human being with all the required orifices inside of her and is therefore ‘a bumhole farmer’ to Donna’s colleague complaining about ‘that recruitment gig that you lot do’, when Donna asks if she’s not getting broody.
Ewbank is joined by Blair McAlpine as Kay and Nicola Maisie Taylor as Sal, but next to their three central characters, the cast also tackle a large number of smaller roles, from partners to midwives to ‘pedo-phobic’ friends. Without the aid of costume changes, the actors sometimes struggle to noticeably differentiate their characters. The dialogues don’t always work in their favour here either, and there were a couple of scenes where I was eagerly waiting for someone to drop a name so I knew which characters I was looking at.
Set-wise, the space is dominated by a large number of bright yellow, soft play blocks. While they are certainly eye-cactching, I found the choice to use quite so many of them baffling, considering how much they restrict the actors’ movements on the already small stage. There is also a lot of unnecessary faffing around with the blocks in between scenes, as they are thrown around, stacked and rearranged, seemingly without much point. The other props, all children’s toys, are a nice touch.
Quite apart from the show itself, I was not entirely convinced by my first visit to the Calder Theatre, which is essentially a room behind a small bookshop. The shop itself doubles as a rather cramped front of house, with audience members awkwardly standing around between the shelves until it was time to go in. There’s also only a single loo, which is inside the auditorium; as a result, the show started ten minutes late on account of the queue for the toilet.
Overall, Birth Right is a good play, unfortunately let down by an imperfect production and venue. Nevertheless, it’s great to see such a thoroughly-researched play and I will certainly be back for more of Doll’s Eye’s work in future.
Birth Right is playing at the Calder Theatre until 12 September