Vivienne Franzmann’s Bodies is staged on a stark, soulless pine and plasterboard interior, a blank canvas on which 90 minutes of trauma and secrets are about to be smeared. It’s not going to be a pretty painting.
The more evidence comes to light about the treatment of Lakshmi, their surrogate mother, the more pitifully both Clem and Josh bewail how hard the process has been on them. It’s increasingly apparent that their determined reliance on what ‘the agency said’ is serving as a lifeline for their own moral justification. You have to feel sorry for Clem when she finally recognises the full horror of what she and Josh have paid for – and yet, you don’t.
It’s impressive just how many layers of denial Franzmann’s spare script, peppered liberally with beats and pauses, manages to imply: at the opening of the play, Clem’s homely banter (‘please don’t say LOL’) with Daughter goes amiss when it transpires she doesn’t know where Daughter goes to school.
And later in the play, when full disclosure forces Clem to reject everything she has hitherto condoned, the audience realises with sinking heart that the pretences must since have been piled back on tenfold in order for that first scene to have taken place.
There are two ways in which Franzmann stops these privileged white people from speaking over Lakshmi’s plight. Neither is ever properly heard by the other characters. The first is Clem’s socialist father, stricken with motor neurone disease, whose increasingly vehement moral objections to the treatment of Lakshmi are defused by his increasing inability to speak.
The second and more jarring way is to bring Lakshmi herself onstage. The more desperate Clem and Josh’s denial that anything is wrong, the more vocal she becomes.
At first she is a mute presence in a cheery Skype conversation. Then, tiny and heavily pregnant, she takes on the task of painting the nursery, spreading the colour of her sari and the empty cot across a whole wall, forcing her visibility on those who would rather avoid the difficulty of her existence. Her brushstrokes and her grunts of effort form an unsettling counterpoint to the continued conversations about how the agency must surely be looking after her.
Finally, she speaks, screams and weeps as her full story is at last uncovered. Salma Hoque wrings every last tear out of this gruelling performance, but tragically for the audience, the sharing of her lines with Daughter (Hannah Rae), who arguably shared her trauma as no one else did, doesn’t flow quite as smoothly as it needs to here.
Nonetheless, it’s one of few flaws in a production that elicits as much soul-searching by the audience as by its characters. There are no easy answers to the questions that Bodies asks. But you leave the theatre with the nagging sense that the answer that Clem and Josh chose wasn’t the right one.
|What||Bodies, Royal Court review|
|Where||Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
05 Jul 17 – 12 Aug 17, 7:45 PM – 9:45 PM
|Price||£12 - £25|
|Website||Click here to book now|