It’s 40 years since the success of IVF: a revolution that has seen 6 million babies born worldwide. But forty years on, how has this scientific advance changed and shaped the social landscape of starting a family today? This is the main question in Re: Production, a new play by White Slate Theatre showcasing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and coming to The Marlowe Theatre in October.
Karen, the central character of Re: Production, is an embryologist. She spends her working hours at the frontline of the IVF industry, enabling the conception of healthy babies for hundreds of couples struggling with fertility issues. She knows the facts; if she wants the best chance of having a baby she should have already started trying. But when perfect husband Tom suggests it’s time for them to give it a go, why does she want to run a mile? Karen loves her job and her life; she relishes in the freedom of waking up late on weekends and jetting off around the world for conferences. At 32, does she really want to trade it in for flexible working hours and baby yoga?
I had a chat with Jenna from White Slate Theatre to find out more…
Why did you decide to write this play?
I started writing Re: Production in the Autumn of 2016. I was 25 and had just returned home from a gruelling summer up at the Fringe where I was working too hard and sleeping on an air mattress in a shared flat. I kept thinking: ‘is this what adulthood looks like?’. By 25 my mum was married with 2 children, but at the same age nothing in my life seemed at all ready for settling down and starting a family. I’d always been one of those little girls who played with dolls and the question for me growing up was never if but when I became a mum; so why, at reaching my peak fertility, was the idea of parenthood getting further and further away? Even though I knew I wanted a baby, I couldn’t see how having one would ever fit in my life or if I would ever be ready to compromise on my current lifestyle to make it work. I then began a lot research and found that I really wasn’t alone in this. For a generation of women, the landscape of starting a family had drastically changed and I knew I had to write about it; this was something we needed to talk about.
There are a lot of pressures on people to achieve certain things by a particular age. How much do you think that in the case of having a baby that this is a social pressure, rather than biological one?
Social pressure is such a huge factor, nobody likes to feel left behind. Once one friend gets engaged, how quickly do we see the rest fall like dominos? There’s definite pressure from our peers and pressure from our parents (who’d like to be grandparents by now) and this is something we delve into in the show. But biologically as women, we are programmed to want to have a baby, and this is something we see the character of Karen struggling with throughout the play. As a scientist, she questions, if the biological purpose of falling in love is to procreate, then what’s wrong with her for not feeling that urge? Does she have something missing? Or has the reality of raising a child in the social climate of 2018 caused her to suppress that most basic of instincts?
What is the role of theatre in exploring this issues?
As a company our mission is to create conversations that spark theatre and theatre that sparks conversations and we believe that the shared live experience of theatre is vital to exploring and understanding what it’s like to be living today. Re: Production is really fun and conversational in its style & tone. The play asks the audience genuine questions that require answers and the actors form relationships with each new audience. This style of theatre in its direct and involving nature asks the audience to be active members in the room and as such is so much more effective and relatable when exploring these ideas than something like a film.
White Slate Theatre is a female led theatre company – do you think this story could have been created by a man?
I certainly think that a version of Re: Production could have been created by a man. The play is about a couple (it usually takes two to tango) and their two opposing viewpoints on having a child are equally balanced throughout the course of the show, but I also think that the specific way in which this story is told and the issues raised do come strongly from the female perspective. As women, we inherently know a lot of the implications having a child will have on our lives: statistically we take a hit in our salary that never recovers, our bodies change out of our control and, more often than not, we become the primary caregivers to someone that depends on us to survive. The quest to ‘have it all’ is often wracked with the guilt of being ‘a bad mum’; while choosing not to have a baby labels us cold and ruthless (just look at the way in which the media has talked about Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May for examples). It became so apparent to me throughout the creation of Re: Production that the only way in which things can become easier for women starting a family is for the gender roles of raising a baby to become equally balanced in society. Re: Production isn’t a show for women but an important topic to be raised and discussed with all genders. After all the choice to have a child has implications on both people in the relationship. More men writing about this topic can only ever be a good thing; we need more voices to be heard and more discussions to be had, if we want to change the social landscape of having a baby for people like Karen and Tom.
Re: Production will be at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, on Wednesday 17 October.
Photo credit: James Richard Photography