The options are dwindling. But, our protagonist Anna protests as she trawls the internet for eligible sperm donors, ‘when you’re a beggar you really should get choosy’.
Playwright Nina Raine has a knack for tapping into the zeitgeist and uncovering the issues that get you deep in the gut. After a searingly smart and compulsively crafted examination of marriage, justice and trust in Consent (National Theatre 2017 then a 2018 West End transfer), she returns to the Dorfman stage with a new story about the complexity of procreation. Instead of revelatory home truths, she hones in on the debate around a woman's right to have a child.
Stories captures the different chapters and strange plot twists of Anna's attempt to have a baby. It's a slick and intimate production, staged in the round with minimalist wooden blocks serving as furniture.
Claudie Blakey, who's a familiar face from period dramas including Larkrise to Candleford, Pride and Prejudice and Gosford Park, plays Anna with warm rationality.
Nearing 40, newly single and unwavering in her desire to be a mother, she is wary of the effect that a faceless, anonymous transaction will have on the child. So Anna's story plays out in a series of encounters set up so she can ask ‘can I have your sperm?’.
Sam Troughton is fabulous fun as he shifts roles to play each different (but similarly dreadful) man. While milking the manchild commitment-phobe cliche to maximum comic effect, the series of different characters also show a spectrum of more reasonable concerns.
First we splutter at Anna’s self-absorbed prospective father, for leaving her during IVF and after two years of trying to conceive. But when we discover he is only 26 the mummy’s boy outlook and cold feet seem less surprising, though no less devastating for Anna.
Raine writes with a light touch, capturing the cadences and comedy of the liberal elite with wry accuracy. And she weaves this humanity and familiarity into a playfully meta-theatrical structure.
The notion of story-telling runs deep: Anna is a successful casting director, so there’s an irony to her ‘auditioning’ each prospective baby-daddy; she tells friends and family the stories of these conversations; and she wakes in a cold sweat at the realisation that life may not be a pre-ordained narrative decided by a higher power, and instead it could be a random slog to an unhappy ending.
The pace slips in the second half, conversations start to lag, and more rigorous editing is needed. But we were invested enough in Anna’s plight to want to find out how this story ends.
|What||Stories, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
10 Oct 18 – 28 Nov 18, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|