Theatre: On the Fringe
Wednesday 24 March 1999
AN IMMACULATE Misconception was premiered as a one-act play at Edinburgh last year. Now fleshed out, it is still just more than an hour and a half long but in that time the writer Carl Djerassi, inventor of the pill, demonstrates the biology, genetics and ethics of intracytoplasmic sperm injection technique (ICSI). There's a certain heavy-handedness, but the American director, Gordon Greenberg, creates absorbing and coherent drama out of a speculative scenario in which the application of science is skimmed as the minefield of social consequences is laid bare.
Susannah Fellows plays the fictional developer of ICSI who, for the sake of Djerassi's wider concerns, is a childless widow in her late thirties. She "steals" sperm from her unwitting - and maritally unavailable - lover to experiment on herself. The sterile white set augments the artificiality of the whole procedure, and also throws into relief the rawness of Fellows's personal impulses and professional transgressions.
When Fellows makes herself "mother of the brave new world", she is looking through a microscope; the drama happens on a screen above where footage of ICSI is running (the real scientists responsible get a programme credit). The egg is violently prodded by a sharp capillary tube containing the vital, single sperm, a sight that induces both a frisson at the life-giving opportunities and a recoil from the primitive mechanics. Reproduction divorced from sex may be this simple, Djerassi suggests, but emotions and instincts will never catch up. Sure enough, Fellows celebrates her single-handed success with a post-penetrative fag.
Longing and loneliness are to be expected in Tennessee Williams's penultimate play A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, but the comedy of self-delusion is a surprise. Graeae, the UK's leading disabled theatre company, gets the mix spot-on. The four actresses make it drip with unforced pathos while skilfully milking its potential for farce.
As Bodey, a deaf, middle-aged woman with a childlike enthusiasm for picnics, flowers and happy endings, Caroline Parker (herself deaf) is a bustling bundle of naive goodwill. She shares a flat - a Technicolor headache designed by Lisa Ducie - with Dottie (Sarah Howard), who lounges around willing her lover to phone. (The production's matronly sign-language interpreter, amusingly integrated into the action under Jenny Sealey's direction, frantically signs Dottie's tale of seduction while pulling a disgusted grimace.) The mismatched pair bicker, and dream, at cross-purposes, until Helena (Ailsa Fairley), Dottie's new friend, arrives. She oozes superciliousness, and Sealey sets up a dynamic contest between her monochrome stylishness and Bodey's vibrant homeliness. Parker flaps and attempts to protect Dottie and comfort her neurotic neighbour (Ali Briggs). Fairley prowls and patronises, but then commands the stage for a chilly monologue on the emotional fortification borne out of despair. "The weak, the strong, it's the only important division between living creatures"; and Graeae have, once more, demonstrated their remarkable strengths.
`An Immaculate Misconception' (0171-794 0022), to 24 Apr ; `A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur' (0171-637 8270) to 3 Apr
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