Saturday, October 27, 2018

Review: 'Welcome...?' at the Bridewell Theatre, 28th October 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

It's rarely a good omen when you're watching a scene about the writers struggling to come up with ideas for the play you're currently at. This comes pretty early on in Welcome...?, which feels as if it's on stage because it can be rather than because it needs to be. 

Written by Lily Lowe-Myers, who performs alongside Robyn Cooper, the play consists of two intertwining strands. One is about thinly fictionalised versions of the actors as they struggle to devise a piece of drama they can perform while heavily pregnant. Bereft of inspiration, they turn to an online short story generator which turns out a garbled piece of writing that they perform. 

This is eventually moulded into the other narrative, a story set in the near future about a woman offering to be a surrogate for the cloned resurrection of a Neanderthal. This story comprises the meat of the show, with Cooper playing an 'ordinary' woman who wants to achieve something unique. This strand of the play raises ethical questions about bringing a child into the world who will be the property of a biotech company, whose development will be carefully managed and who may be unable to ever lead a normal life.

The Neanderthal pregnancy strand of the story is genuinely interesting and feels broadly plausible. The mother-to-be's paranoia about the future of her child and her relationship with it are well-drawn, as is Lowe-Myers' scientist who seems to be gradually warming to her test subject.

Things come to a head in a disastrous press conference in which its revealed that the experiment has gone public, leading to protests, demands for the pregnancy to be terminated and accusations that the mother is morally deficient for agreeing to this. It's really good, smart stuff and then... the play completely gives up on it.

Lowe-Myers and Cooper announce they're doing the scene over and the play proceeds to neatly sweep every interesting question they'd raised under the rug and ignore them. I get that this is a 50-minute long piece of lunch theatre, but if they'd ditched the metafictional waffling maybe they would have had the time to grapple with some of these ethical questions.

Worse, what then proceeds to happen is a meditation on how bringing a baby into the world is like staging a piece of theatre. Both baby and play will be judged by the public, with the inference that the two can be equated. The comparison doesn't work: a child is a bundle of untapped potential that can achieve anything - so shouldn't be judged. Conversely, a finished piece of drama that you're selling tickets to the public to is something that very much can be critiqued. There is a broad equivalence, but it just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

It feels like the genesis of Welcome...? was that Lowe-Myers and Cooper wanted to perform while pregnant rather than that they had anything in particular to say. 

What's more frustrating is that the Neanderthal plot is so promising and then is left unresolved. I'd love to see this reworked into something better, as Cooper's portrayal of a mother at the cutting edge of science is compelling as hell - I want to see how it ends.

Welcome is at the The Bridewell Theatre until November 2nd. Tickets here.

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