Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Photo by Clare Hawley

The Ensemble Theatre presents, e-baby, by Jane Cafarella, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, 13 October - 13 November.

e-baby is a new Australian play by Jane Cafarella, for two women, seen first in Melbourne, last year. The play charts a surrogacy pregnancy.

We first meet Catherine (Danielle Carter), a 46 year-old, ex-pat Australian, living the 'dream' as a high-flying lawyer based in London, with a practice in New York, who after trying with her architect husband for eleven years to have a child through IVF treatment and failing, decides that her need to have a child of her own, will be, now, perforce, through a surrogacy plan and action. Money is no obstacle for this privileged couple. Time and 'old eggs' are the issue.

In her lawyer mode Catherine seeks out a state where surrogacy is legal and settles on Massachusetts. Here she sifts through a collection of volunteers on-line, offered by an agency, and selects Nellie (Gabrielle Scawthorn), from Boston, a white 'working class' woman. Nellie is the healthy mother of two children who delights in the gift of motherhood but because of economics (education expense prospects), she and her husband have decided that they cannot afford more of their own. Catherine arrives at their first meeting armed with a formidable contract to fulfil and manage her desire. Nellie arrives at that same meeting with a formidable fecundity and sense of her God-given powers and responsibility to the creation of new life - the money might help as well!

The action of the play covers 16 months from 2015 to the present day. We meet the women in their almost daily contact through the wonders of the internet: iPhone, computer and the immediacy of Skype. We watch the blog that Nellie sets-up to record and share her experience: NELLIE'S BELLY. Too, we become privy to the ultrasound of regular check-ups as the fertilised egg(s) grow, and some quasi-scientific imagery that carries us through the many scene changes. The production Design by Tobhiyah Stone Feller is simply stark and open, featuring, principally, a spacious curved back wall onto which the electronic 'gimmickry' of the modern age can throw its images in magnified clarities for the audience to engage and learn from. The AV Design, by Christopher Page, is excellent. Sound Design is by Daniel Nixon.

This play gives a gentle education to those of us who may not know much of the process and intricacies of surrogacy: legal, medical and, in this instance, the personal inter-active emotional journeys of Catherine and Nellie as they experience the ups-and-downs of it all. There is a quiet tension in the developing of the situation between these two women of such contrasting backgrounds, which results in an empathetic endowing and audience identification with the complications of it all. One finds oneself wishing and hoping for the best for the women and the surrogate child.

The journey is not straightforward, at all. The writing is assured in its selection of its revealed focus of details and is expertly (breezily) Directed by Nadia Tass. The play is very audience friendly and, maybe, lacks real enquiring depths or confrontations surrounding the issues that arise - it has the lightness of a gentle Neil Simon approach (a comic tinge of THE ODD COUPLE), amongst all of the fraught possibilities of the law, medicine and personal dependencies on this delicate mine-field of modern science and child birth. The debates and confrontation, the ethics of this new-world field that one may want, are for a different, another, play.

It is the performances by Ms Carter and Ms Scawthorn that are so personably secure, so empathetically contrasted, drawn with humour as well as head-butting ideological battlements that, essentially, keeps at bay too much carping about the relative suspense-comedy that we are given. The actors are a disarming and charming coupling. They draw us irresistibly into the situation that the Playwright and Director offers and, cumulatively, one is well satisfied with an entertainment that is cathartic as well as, lightly, educational.

I guess we have known plays about the trauma of child birth in the past. Two years ago we saw EVERY SECOND, by Vanessa Bates, concerning the difficulties of IVF treatment. e-baby takes us into the next choice: surrogacy. I suppose, soon, we may also, look at the other option: adoption.

I had a very satisfying experience. I recommend the journey.

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