Venue: New Century House, The Elphick Stage Where: Manchester
The 24/7 Festival has organised a series of rehearsed readings of new plays as part of this year’s festival. This gives audiences the chance to see, and even influence, the evolution of the plays. It also presents them with the challenge of sitting through what could be a static production.
That is not the case with Baby Shaped Hole. The five person cast, none of them credited but all of them excellent, add a physicality to the production so that the reading is more like a complete performance albeit lacking sets.
Liam tries to fill the holes in his life in increasingly desperate ways. As a child he escaped into books to fill the holes created by an absent father and a neglectful mother- whose lack of maturity and maternal instinct made her little more than a child herself. As an adult he seeks to rectify his flawed childhood by having his own child but faces frustration when potential mothers do not co-operate.
Writer Julia Hogan takes a non-judgemental approach to her characters that makes their motives refreshingly ambiguous. We are never sure if the apparently destructive behaviour of Josh was actually intended to shield his younger brother from further disappointment. Liam may seem manipulative, using passive-aggressive techniques in a way that amounts to grooming his girlfriends to consent to have his child. On the other hand he may be a complete innocent unaware that he is doing any harm.
If his motives are ambiguous Liam’s behaviour is certainly creepy. He makes a fetish of pregnancy stroking the stomach of his lover and praising her beauty when pregnant. To explore this element of the work would make it a different type of play – closer to a horror story. This might be worth considering as one thing that does not seem to be explored in the play is whether Liam would make a good father. It seems doubtful. He lacks the maturity to cope when his girlfriends refuse to comply with his wishes and seeing as children become defiant as they get older it is likely that Liam may feel her has created a monster. But that would be a story for another play.
Baby Shaped Hole is still a work in progress but the non-judgemental attitude and willingness to allow ambiguity suggest that the final play could be very good indeed.