The term ‘stuff’ is described in the Urban Dictionary, that great bastion of definitive definitions, as ‘a word that is a proper substitute for any other word’, appropriate for ‘when a conversation is running dry’. It is apt enough for this single act play of the same name, where Xav (Karl Greenwood), relentlessly upbeat despite having a terminal illness, comes up with miscellaneous terms for his donation to a frozen sperm bank, to the point where Jess Matthews (Eve Burley) and her husband Toby (Peter Ash) decide to insist on using the term ‘stuff’ in order that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
Xav is dying, with two months left to live according to the current progression of a non-hereditary but incurable brain tumour. His ‘sense of tumour’ is irritating to Toby, and probably to Jess too, but as Xav and Jess have been friends ever since primary school, she shows it less. It is, however, very likeable for the audience. Toby and Jess are trying for a baby, and Jess has a ring binder full of plastic wallets, dividers and various leaflets, advice sheets and even an ovulation chart. But things are not quite working out – yet. Enter Xav with a two-fold proposition. Firstly, he’s dying, and when he goes, he can’t take his current account with him, so here’s a large cheque for two awfully good friends. Secondly, the said donation to a sperm bank. The two are not mutually exclusive (yeah, okay!)…
It’s a tight script by Mick Cooper, and one that reveals the inner torments of the young couple. For Xav, well, he’s not long for this world, so c’est la vie. He can bounce around with energy and verve and enjoy the time he has left. Jess, ever the practical one, suggests he does something more altruistic with the remaining months of his life. Personally I sided with Xav on this one – life is to be enjoyed, and to be enjoyed all the more if you’re buggering off in two months.
Toby is unsure where to turn – even the pregnancy advisory information leaflets are “all pink” (that is, written for a female audience), as though, in Toby’s mind, it is as though men should never even have problems with regards to making babies. Jess, too, has skeletons in the closet; it is only when Toby re-enters the room that he overhears that Jess has been, um, considering options and ways of bearing a child other than receiving Toby’s seed – without even so much as consulting her own husband.
Their shared frustration is palpable – a scene where Toby exerts an exorbitant effort to open the lid of a jar of pickled onions is very nearly a metaphor for his inability to father a child. He gets it open eventually, and I am left wondering that if he put a similar (even if equally comical) effort in the bedroom, he may get an accordingly similar result.
In the end, it isn’t even so much about having a baby or not. It seems to me that it’s more about demonstrating how a lack of openness and communication between a couple and between friends is rather futile, because either the relationships will disintegrate, or, as in Stuff, the truth all comes out anyway and the relationships survive but – goodness me – there’s a lot of pain and heartache to battle through, which could have been avoided by telling it like it is, however blunt, in the first place. The humour in the play means this message is not preached at the audience. Rather, it is sweetly but confidently demonstrated through Toby’s sincere apology and a touching acceptance by Jess.
A surprising twist at the very end of the play is impressive. I also liked Peter Ash’s portrayal of Toby’s crushed dignity. It was realistic and sympathetic throughout and never even risked being melodramatic or churlish. A strong production with an excellent script and an excellent cast to match.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Toby and Jess Matthews are unable to conceive children. Or rather, Toby is unable to. One night, an old school friend of Jess’ – Xav – makes the unique suggestion that they use his frozen “stuff” instead and become parents. This can’t be a good idea? Can it? Set during one strange night in The Matthew’s front room, ‘Stuff’ is the unusual story of life, death, family, friendship and all the stuff in-between.
Summer of STUFF
WINNER of the “Audience Favourite Play” award at 24:7 Theatre Festival.
WINNER of Best Male at the UK Studio Theatre Awards.
“Poignant yet very, very funny in places… A thoroughly rewarding, thoroughly adult, production” –Manchester Theatre Awards
“Stuff is definitely a play you should go and watch” – Lancashire Life
20 August 2015 – 23 August 2015 at 8:00pm
23rd August 2015