9th November 2018
The Strutt Centre, Belper
Type of Production
Author: Joyce Handbury
Marde Hen Productions is a theatre company formed in 2012 by a group of enthusiastic people with the sole purpose of producing exciting and innovative plays by new writers.
This play, ‘Donor’, is the third full-length stage play that has been written for the company by Stephen Lee Rees. It was originally a short mini play written for a competition in 2008 the idea evolving from discussions about becoming a sperm donor. He revisited the play in 2016 the result of which is this current production by Marde Hen. The play revolves around the many aspects, for and against, that can cause relationship problems following IVF treatment and similarly those that can occur following being a sperm donor. The research and understanding that must have gone into writing this play was so much in evidence throughout and resulted in what was an incredible, insightful piece of dramatic theatre. It had its twists, turns, unexpected outcomes, tears, drama by the bucket load and somehow Stephen managed to get some humour in there as well.
Donor follows two stories, one set in the 80’s and is about Mike and Elaine who are having difficulty conceiving and the other is set in the present day where Liam is asked, by his best friend Jess, to donate his sperm so that she and her girlfriend Bex can become parents. Jamie Brooks excelled as Mike as did Louise Jenkins as Elaine. After their visit to a Consultant, suitably played by Andrew Barlow, when back at home the couple tried quite graphically to conceive, albeit most of the ‘action’ happened behind a sofa only later to find that all their efforts were to no avail. When Mike discovered that he was the ‘problem’ he was distraught and his wife Elaine desperately tries to appease him suggesting that they look at other options. Mike tells of all the reasons for not having IVF, their chosen route, but inevitably this happens resulting, after much heart searching, that he just cannot accept the baby and leaves only later returning to say he has met someone else who can’t have children and so they are going to adopt, emphasizing, that it will be neither hers or his! Both Jamie and Louise, as I’ve already said, were excellent, conveying the emotional inner turmoils and deep seated concerns, particularly from Mike, wonderfully. These various scenes were not delivered as a whole but were interspersed with the other story so the two scenarios were being acted out together as it were. The other story, that of Liam being a sperm Donor, which he did accede to, was for the most part a little ‘lighter’ because Liam was so excited at becoming a Dad as were Jess and Bex about their forthcoming baby. This however did change as Jess and Bex tried their best to keep Liam ‘out of the loop’. Jess played by Veronica Jones and Bex by Kayleigh Jayne Winchester complemented each other admirably. They both gave first-rate performances taking us through the journey of the pregnancy with its upsets, frustrations and fun times splendidly. Robert Peach was absolutely outstanding as Liam. The emotions he showed, his facial expressions, the devastation he portrayed when told in no uncertain terms - “you’re just the donor” were brilliant. In a stand-out cast he, for me, was just brilliant. Great support came from Alyson Koe as the Woman, Kerry-Ann Roe as Judith and Jane Wilton was superb as the Citizens Advice Bureau Office delivering the so insightful and funny script just exquisitely. Her matter of fact attitude and comic timing were sublime. It is a small venue and the one main set with a sofa, coffee table, dresser etc, was utilised to show the two differing ‘stories’ by the clever use of excellent props and the passage of time by costume changes. We the audience were involved, especially when drinks were handed out during the ‘baby shower’ and I particularly liked the asides to us that both Mike and Liam delivered about their worries and concerns. Liam managed, at the wedding of Bex and Jess, to steal away with the baby. We next see him on ‘scaffolding’ (a plain walled truck was turned round) with the baby in his arms. The scene that followed involving a conversation with Mike, who had joined him, was just so movingly, profoundly and illuminatingly expressed - terrific. Oh, and guess what, Mike just happens to be his father! Liam was told by the Citizens Advice Officer that really he should have had a ‘contract’ concerning his role in the upbringing of his child and the very last scene goes back to when he, Jess and Bex were first discussing it all, whilst having a pizza, and Liam holds up a contract and smiles and winks at the audience - what a lovely unexpected twist, leaving the audience to ponder - what if..........? Every accolade must go to the writer, Stephen Lee Rees, for communicating the complexities, the thought processes and the emotional traumas that were conveyed in this brilliantly conceived (sorry) play. Congratulations must go to the Director Richard Platt and to everyone involved, especially the cast, for bringing Stephen’s challenging and thought provoking play to fruition. I must add that the programme contained a comprehensive article by Nick Raine-Fenning, personally submitted, who is one of two Medical Directors and Person Responsible for the Unit at the Nurture Fertility Clinic, Burton.