‘A Child of Science’ Is A Powerful Ode to Courageous Women: Review

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Photo by Helen Murray

★★★★

1950s Britain. Women are given a choice: pursue employment or get married and have babies. Gareth Farr’s poignant and powerful new play, A Child of Science, is a compassionate ode to every woman who was born under the impression that having a baby should be a basic biological function of the female body. 

Carefully balancing the perspective of women struggling to conceive alongside top medical researchers, Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy, who worked tirelessly to make a scientific breakthrough, Farr and director Matthew Dunster have created a well-balanced and thoroughly researched fictionalised reimagining of the creation of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Forget any preconceptions of a stuffy and convoluted medical drama: A Child of Science is a perfectly timed 2 hours and 30-minutes of gripping theatre where stakes are high and jobs, reputation and lives are at risk. Leaving no stone unturned, the play explores the great moral and political controversy that followed both the scientists and the families who could not conceive, raising the awareness of how revolutionary societal change can so often be met with fear.

Although the idea of a fictionalised reimagining of the creation of something so real and delicate may cause apprehension, the thorough research done here shines through from the script to the design choices. Both Farr & Dunster have shared how they were both only able to have children thanks to the invention of IVF and the personal edge and determination to tell this story with the utmost accuracy and consideration rings true throughout.

What feels most powerful is the focus on the courageous women who gave their time, bodies and strength to IVF trials in their earliest stages. Without their sacrifice, resilience and bravery, fertility treatment could never have been revolutionized in the way it was and as well as having the colossal impact upon women and families all over the world it continues to have today.

There are beautiful moments for reflection running throughout, such as a choir of women’s faces that had been seamlessly woven in at certain moments, affording a much-needed space for consolidation. Faces are projected on various surfaces around the stage made up of volunteer singers who had a relationship to IVF which creates a wonderful pathos, adding to a general atmosphere of support and camaraderie.  

The production is not entirely without fault, there are a few dialogue-heavy scenes that slowed the pace down could have done with a chop, some characterisations that were noticeably stronger than others and there were several abrupt music cues at the beginning which were unsettling for the wrong reasons. However, despite these minor flaws, the overall phenomenological impact the play achieved is no easy feat and makes for masterclass of how theatre can the perfect vice to raise the awareness of important issues.  

Although it is admittedly difficult to forget where we have seen Tom Felton, his performance as rigorous Robert (Bob) Edwards is solid and reliable. Equally, Meg Bellamy’s depiction of Jean Purdy blends well with Felton to create a believable presentation.

Without question, it is Adelle Leonce’s performance as Margaret, ‘Patient 38’, a character who underwent 10 rounds of IVF in this story to no avail, who steals the show. Leonce gives a pithy, multi-faceted performance, single-handedly providing much needed comic relief as well as tugging on your heartstrings. Her versatility as the play continues is capturing to watch and helps to achieve the raw, reality of human existence, which is not one-dimensional. She truly makes you feel all every single scrap emotion she went through. 

Punchy, poignant and political; this is a play that struck the perfect emotional chord and handled a delicate subject matter with the care that anybody with any connection to IVF deserves.  

Words by Abbie James.


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