Bodies review at London’s Royal Court – ‘compelling but over-fussy’

Salma Hoque and Justine Mitchell in Bodies. Photo: Bronwen Sharp Salma Hoque and Justine Mitchell in Bodies. Photo: Bronwen Sharp
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What lengths would you go to for a child to call your own? What relationships would you forsake? What laws would you break?

These questions, and more, swirl naggingly through Vivienne Franzmann’s new drama Bodies, in which a couple unable to conceive decide to try surrogacy instead. Clem (Justine Mitchell) and Josh (Jonathan McGuinness, script-in-hand on press night due to cast illness) put all their eggs in one shady international petri dish: a British sperm, a Russian ovum, an Indian womb, and a £22,000 child-to-order.

Focusing on the increasingly febrile Clem – invested with superb, skittish uncertainty by Mitchell – Franzmann’s shape-shifting play combines a dense psychological study with a philosophical question, then drops in some political bite to boot. Naturalist drama is abruptly interleaved with hallucinatory conversations between Clem, her unborn child and her surrogate, which grow more blackly figurative as the human cost of Clem’s determination to be a mother grows apparent.

It’s bold stuff, packed with ideas, but it’s ragged around the edges, taking too long to introduce its ethical crux and getting increasingly bogged down by the inelegantly realised hallucination device.

The play is also let down somewhat by Jude Christian’s flat-pack production, which struggles in the Jerwood Upstairs’ intimate space, with Gabriella Slade’s Scandi-chic, sliding-door design desensitising the drama and the sporadic use of projected video feeling clumsy and superfluous. More incubation required, perhaps.

Compelling, shape-shifting, but over-fussy new drama about surrogacy