The Quiet House (Park Theatre)
Gareth Farr's new play examines the hardships of trying to conceive
Gareth Farr's play starts out like a bit of a sitcom, as we find Jess in new nightwear comically attempting to seduce her rather manic husband who is more interested in telling her about a shop robbery he has just witnessed, but it swiftly develops into a pretty harrowing, and wholly engrossing, examination of the toll that childlessness and the IVF process can take on a relationship.
I have no idea about the author's personal circumstances, but the situation depicted here feels completely authentic: the likeable central couple almost implode through pressure and desperation, their interactions becoming less and less about love and affection, and solely about their ability to conceive a child. Tessa Walker's superb production unflinchingly shows us both the physical discomfort IVF treatment causes with it's nightly injections into the belly, and the interminable waiting game to see how many eggs have fertilised. I suspect this play would make very uncomfortable viewing for a couple who were going through the process. The dialogue is 100% naturalistic, even down to the poignant conversations Jess has with her phantom child. Farr is also impressively even-handed in representing the male and female perspectives on this emotive subject.
As potential mother Jess, Michelle Bonnard - looking like a young cross between Helen McCrory and Nicola Walker - gives a remarkable performance. The kind of woman you'd want as your best friend, at least until her all-consuming urge to be a mum robs her of most of her empathy and indeed interest in pretty much anything else, she is by turns fierce, pathetic, kind, impossible, icily calm, and Bonnard expresses each of these notes perfectly. Opposite her, Oliver Lansley is exactly the right mixture of highly strung and grounded as Dylan, torn between wanting a family and embracing his sudden upswing in professional fortunes. The two actors work exquisitely together; the almost wordless scene where they receive the results of their first post-IVF pregnancy test is astonishingly well acted and deeply moving.
Welcome light relief is provided by Tom Walker as Jacob's loutish boss, forever at loggerheads with the HR department due to his inability to recognise personal boundaries in the work place, and Allyson Ava-Brown, amusingly cheeky as the frazzled, tactless upstairs neighbour with a baby, who can't make it past the front door without needing to pee.
Ana Inès Jabares-Pita's set design is spot-on, successfully evoking the vaguely sterile urban dwelling of a modern upwardly mobile couple. Apart from a slightly histrionic opening scene, Walker's staging is pretty much pitch-perfect, even down to the sensitive use of music.
It says much for the quality of the writing and acting here that I went from thinking this wouldn't be my kind of thing as the play started, to being completely absorbed and emotionally invested. A compelling evening.
The Quiet House runs at the Park Theatre until 8 July.