I finally made it to the refurbed Bush Theatre last week (I know you’re wondering why it took this long, but it’s not exactly my patch of London). What a lovely set up, and what’s more it is always appreciated when a venue values the bloggers amongst us and sets up meet-up events especially for us to review shows!
The show in question was Of Kith and Kin by writer Chris Thompson, which uses the theme of a gay couple having a baby by a surrogate mother as its main premise. James Lance plays lawyer Daniel, and Joshua Silver his younger party-planner husband Oliver. The first scene, in which we meet them both alongside Daniel’s old friend Priya (Chetna Pandya, loud and excellent) – surrogate mother to their baby, nine months pregnant with it – sets up our expectations for the play, before shooting them down. Daniel and Oliver are drinking champagne and vodka, reminiscing about their wedding dance, planning excitedly for the baby’s arrival. There is a lot of swearing, some very dirty laughs from Priya, and some shared memories. They both seem to have a good, strong relationship with Priya, though we find out later that she is originally Daniel’s friend. The celebratory mood changes when Daniel’s mother Lydia pays a visit (Joanna Bacon doing a brilliant turn in her first of two characters – the second one, as the smooth-talking lawyer in court, is equally and contrastingly good). Lydia delivers some quite funny put downs of Oliver’s mother, who gave Lydia a green candle as a present (‘to match your mother’s skin’), as well as showing clear disdain for this whole ‘carry-on’, and we think this is all going to be about the expected prejudices against surrogacy for a gay couple. But Oliver’s returns are more scathing than is warranted, and we start to perceive a strangeness in the relationship with Daniel, which ends in quite a bizarre scene of violence between the two men, and a rubber duck. Act One ends with the arrival of the baby.
As the play continues on an interesting trajectory, the relationship between the men and the surrogate breaks down, as does the one between the men themselves. We are introduced to the concept of parenthood, about whether that extends beyond the donors of the egg and the sperm, the legalities behind it, and we are asked to judge a man’s love for a son that is not legally, or maybe even medically, his. There are extra threads about Daniel’s upbringing, whether an abused child might become an abusing father; there is also the interesting theme of how life has changed for gay men, in the time since Daniel himself was a young man, who never believed he could marry, and as a result never wanted to marry. As watchable as it is, there is a resulting feeling of unclarity about the message of the play and this might be because you do not care about the characters enough.
I found some aspects of the play weak. Donna Berlin plays the presiding magistrate in court, and although her performance is good, some of the lines such as the humour don’t ring true. Also the characterisation of Oliver is either under-written or as a man he is intended to be really annoying. He is not very consistent, he has very little to say in court, and the doubts he has about becoming a dad are reflected in my doubts about him as a realistic person.
James Lance as Daniel can come across as arrogant when representing himself in the court scene, however as the central character he is in the main strong and believable. Of Kith and Kin is not just a story about the taboos of surrogacy, particularly within gay marriage. It turns into something unexpected, touches on a lot of important points, and has some very poignant moments.
hattydaze rating: ***/*****
I attended Of Kith and Kin thanks to bloggers’ meet up organised by the Bush Theatre. It plays there until 25th November 2017. See the theatre website for more details.