Set in the same house 200 years apart, Experiment With an Air Pump raises a multitude of challenging questions about ethics, medical research and marital disharmony.
A scene from An Experiment With An Air Pump at the Lion and Unicorn, London Photo: Alexander Ford for Giant Olive Theatre Company
In the present day, Tom (Steven Lello) and his wife Ellen (Holly Clark) struggle to see eye to eye on a job Ellen has been offered in the field of embryo research, while 200 years previously the same actors are Joseph, a scientist, and Susannah Fenwick - his morose wife who drinks too much and continually complains about her husband’s disinterest in her.
Flipping between the two settings works very well and the way the same actors keep appearing in different guises showcases their diversity. Rae Brogan in particular is all types of cocky - firstly as stroppy, self-satisfied teenager Harriet Fenwick and then, in the present day, arrogant, self-assured scientist Kate, who can accept no other opinion but her own. Sure, she is disagreeable, but entertaining all the same.
Another highlight is Billie Fullford-Brown as the insipid Maria Fenwick who (in the 19th century) reads out letters from her suitor, who has gone overseas. The ups and downs of the relationship provide light relief from the more serious storylines, and Fullford-Brown demonstrates an impressive comic ability.
In the present day setting, the ethical questions explored by Tom, Ellen and colleague Kate are handled quite sensitively, although reasonable thinking tends to be weighted heavily in favour of the scientists as opposed to the husband, who struggles with the issues of morality and criticises his wife’s appraisal of when life begins as altering to suit her argument.
With plenty of horror and intrigue thrown into the mix, the story is certainly gripping, but is undermined by its excessive length - it would benefit enormously by being at least 20 minutes shorter.