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Mary’s Babies review at Jermyn Theatre, London – ‘a fascinating story’

Katy Stephens and Emma Fielding in Mary's Babies at Jermyn Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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Maud Dromgoole’s new play is inspired by the fascinating true story of Dr Mary Barton, who in the 1930s established one of the first fertility clinics to offer donor insemination. What makes Barton’s story stand out, however, is that she used sperm from her second husband, Dr Bertold Wiesner, in the conception of over a thousand babies.

Even more mind-bogglingly, Barton’s clinic destroyed all the evidence and swore the parents of all the babies to secrecy – so that none of the resulting children knew they were related to one another.

Dromgoole’s version of the story consists of a series of snapshots of the lives of over 40 characters, all skilfully portrayed by Katy Stephens and Emma Fielding.

Dweeby Kieran (played by Stephens) is in his 40s when the recent death of the woman he thought to be his mother brings a devastating revelation – not only was he conceived by donor insemination, he was then rejected by his step-father and subsequently adopted by the family maid. This discovery sends him on a mission to find his biological family.

Anna Reid’s minimalist set is painted a warm pink yet feels distinctly clinical. Dromgoole’s play is one of palpable suspense – it’s hard not to gasp along with the twists and turns of the plot. The writing is ridiculously outlandish, yet not beyond the realms of possibility, and this makes it captivating. Tatty Hennessy’s somewhat lacklustre production, however, struggles to translate all this from page to stage.

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Fascinating new play based on a true story given a slightly lacklustre production