Genesis Inc review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘clumsy and chaotic’
Infertility is an industry. While treatment is available on the NHS, for many the only option is private treatment in glossy, costly clinics. The emotional and financial cost of IVF is a subject worthy of dramatic exploration – a number of recent plays have done just that – but Jemma Kennedy’s comedy Genesis Inc is chaotic, crude and clumsy in execution. It does however feature Jenni Murray as the voice of a talking cervix.
Bridget (Laura Howard) is a hard-nosed businesswoman with her eggs on ice. Miles (Arthur Darvill) is her gay bestie who needs a beard in order to land a job at a Catholic school.
Serena (Ritu Arya) and her husband Jeff (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) are desperate to conceive. While he has a child by a former partner, she has had miscarriage after miscarriage. They’ve had to sell their car to finance their next cycle of IVF.
Harry Enfield plays Dr Marshall, the oleaginous South African head of the fertility clinic, in which all of the characters end up. He also pops up as God, as if that point needed underlining.
Kennedy’s play feels as if it’s been fuelled by frustration with a system in which the odds of success are spectacularly low given the costs involved, but Genesis Inc trades so heavily in stereotypes it undermines its potential potency.
Serena has no facets to her character other than her consuming need to have a baby. Bridget clicks around in Louboutin heels, her eyes lighting up at the prospect of promotion. There’s also a thrown-away subplot in which one of social worker Jeff’s clients (Clare Perkins), a battered wife and mother of four, explains the contract she has with her husband to stop him knocking her about.
It’s difficult to do justice to the oddity of Laurie Sansom’s production. Serena’s vagina lights up and talks to her, like a sentient yeast infection. Karl Marx puts in an appearance (Enfield again). At one point everyone dons stick-on beards and robes to enact scenes from the Old Testament. Later Darvill frantically wanks while being interrogated by Susan Sontag.
Sansom occasionally foregrounds the mechanics of the staging – we can see the stage managers winching pieces of Jess Curtis’ set into place – but this device is often dropped.
In the second half, moments of giddy ridiculousness make you wonder what would have happened if the play had embraced its own excess earlier.
Darvill and Howard do a pretty good job as best friends with a complicated romantic past. There’s real warmth in their scenes and Darvill clearly relishes every opportunity he gets to play the piano and sing. But there’s a lot of weird stuff to wade through, a dismaying lack of care with which certain scenes – a vaginal examination, a possible miscarriage – are staged, and ultimately very little space for emotional nuance or narrative coherence amid the cacophony.