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Theatre Review Oh, baby!

SIMON PARSONS applauds a new drama that pays tribute to the hundreds of women who volunteered to develop IVF

A Child of Science
Bristol Old Vic

 

GARETH FARR’S testimony to the scientists and women who went through years of trials and tribulations in the development of IVF is an enlightening and moving drama that traces not only the scientific problems but also the barrage of conservative, religious and gutter press obstacles and interference they had to overcome.

The unrelenting pursuit of scientist Robert Edwards (Tom Felton) in exploring chromosomal development of early-stage mammal eggs in a culture medium, and his serendipitous relationship with gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe (Jamie Glover) whose his pioneering laparoscopy tackled back-street abortion butchery, along with the essential medical support work of Jean Purdy (Meg Bellamy) are the predictable characters at the core of this play, but not of the drama.

At the emotional heart of Farr’s play is the bravery and resilience of the hundreds of women who volunteered to be guinea pigs in the necessarily secretive programme that in the last 45 years has allowed 12 million births to infertile couples.

Adelle Leonce’s strong and passionate performance as patient 38, unsuccessfully putting herself through 10 rounds of exploratory treatment and heart-wrenching loss in pursuit of a child, is a telling reminder of the 281 anonymous and unsung women whose loyal commitment to the programme made IVF possible.

The production suffers from a slightly pedestrian first half, establishing characters, background science and historical norms, amid Anna Fleischle’s flexible, impersonal glass screened, waiting room-style set, and director Matthew Dunster’s inclusion of non-naturalistic elements that pep up the narrative, it is after the interval that the human drama really takes off.  

In the closing stages of the race to prove the efficacy of IVF, with the birth of Louise Brown, the pressures on the scientific team and the reality of what the women volunteers were going through really strikes home.

Farr’s play is a glowing tribute to all those involved in the development of IVF, successfully tracing both the public and private worlds of the Oldham-based team. But special attention is paid to the women involved and their strength of character, not just those on the front line, but all those behind the scenes who sacrificed so much for the sake of the dream.

Runs until 6 July. Box office: 0117 987 7877, bristololdvic.org.uk 

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