“I need a family, Dylan. I do. I do. I know I do. It’s part of my fabric, it’s woven into my essence. It’s not a want, Dylan. It’s a need. It’s not an accessory I’m after, it’s a family. And it’s consuming me from the inside, Dylan. I should be able to have a f…ing baby.”
There are those who have children and, much as they love them very much, find it difficult keeping everything together. There are others with children who are absolutely loving life. There are those, like me, who have deliberately not gone down the road of having children, but are also loving life (I have no personal vested interest in the subject matter of this play). And then there are those like Dylan Baxter (Oliver Lansley) and his wife Jess (Michelle Bonnard), who are in the unenviable position of wanting to have children but are unable to do so. The Quiet House provides a considerably heartfelt and tactful insight into the life stories of anyone in a similar position.
The opening scene is almost immediately gripping, as the audience, along with Jess, is trying to piece together what exactly is going on with a hysterical Dylan trying to blurt out some extraordinary events in his day. There is something rather artificial, though, about this man actually willing to talk about what went on – most men would want to forget about their terrible day. They would not want to discuss it and rehearse a sequence of unpleasant happenings in their minds.
But I forgive this play for a slight lack of realism here as it does provide a vivid and easily comprehendible character. What’s more, there are moments of dark humour, and moments of altogether light-hearted humour too, from the office banter from Dylan’s line manager Tony (Tom Walker) to a scene involving Jess and neighbour Kim (Allyson Ava-Brown) that would not have been out of place in a British comedy farce. The resulting subplot from that scene becomes simultaneously probing and deep, a marvellous demonstration of quite how multi-faceted and multi-layered this play is.
I found the portrayal of the IVF process both engrossing and informative. I’ve seen, as many have, BBC documentaries about IVF, usually presented by Professor Robert Winston, who himself, incidentally, has slammed the IVF industry for apparently exploiting couples struggling to conceive, insofar as parts of it are allegedly ignoring ethical standards. How the public at large is being treated or mistreated is not the focus in this production, which impresses on its audiences the sheer psychological mountains that must be climbed to undergo a procedure that is likelier to fail than succeed. There are, of course, alternatives, such as adoption and fostering, options not being explored by this particular couple for reasons explained in the narrative of the play.
Like Kim in the play, I too “googled the sh*t” out of certain terminology I had never come across before – I had no idea what ‘ACU’ stood for, let alone names in the stage directions such as Merional, Fostimon and Buserelin. At times, both Dylan’s and Jess’ conduct borders on melodrama, but on the other hand, we are not left guessing where either of them stand, and these are highly credible and standout performances from both actors.
Quite the emotional rollercoaster, and with more than sufficient plot twists that help to maintain engagement, this is a hard-hitting and intensely sympathetic play. Life’s real priorities are questioned, and the audience openly gasped at the ending, itself a talking point after the show. There’s some excellent writing from Gareth Farr, with a superb cast to match. I am not an emotional person, and as I say I have no personal interest in raising a family, but even I was very nearly moved to tears by this hopeful yet harrowing piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Quiet House, a blistering and honest new play about a couple’s journey to start a family by award-winning writer, Gareth Farr, will play at Park Theatre from 7 June – 9 July, with a press night on 8 June, following its world premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 26 May – 4 June. The Quiet House is Gareth Farr’s second play following his Bruntwood Prize-winning debut, Britannia Waves The Rules which premiered at the Royal Exchange Manchester in 2014. A funny, moving and unswervingly honest love story, The Quiet House was inspired by Gareth and his wife, Gabby’s own experience.
Jess and Dylan are in love. They want a family. That’s all they have event wanted. This ordinary couple find themselves on an extraordinary journey when they enter the world of IVF. Forced to fight for the family they so desperately want, they put their faith in science and their relationship through the ultimate test.
The cast includes Michelle Bonnard as ‘Jess’, with actor and comedian Tom Walker, aka YouTube sensation Jonathan Pie, as ‘Tony’, Allyson Ava-Brown as ‘Kim’, and Oliver Lansley (Artistic Director of Olivier nominated company Les Enfants Terribles) as ‘Dylan’.
Accompanying the production will be a one day Fertility Fest at each venue (Saturday 28 May in Birmingham and Saturday 11 June at Park Theatre) both curated by Jessica Hepburn – author of the bestselling book The Pursuit of Motherhood, and bringing together over twenty of the country’s leading writers, visual artists, theatre-makers, film directors and composers for a day of discussion and debate about making (and not making) babies in the modern way. Topics under the artistic microscope include facing the diagnosis of infertility, IVF, donation, surrogacy, the male experience, egg freezing, involuntary childlessness and alternative routes to parenthood.