Directed by Nadia Tass
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 13 October – 13 November
Women are barraged with double standards when it comes to reproductive rights and social expectations surrounding motherhood. For some, pregnancy, childbirth and parenting can be fulfilling. For others, the process can be fraught with pain. I’m not a mother, but I’d imagine for many women who try to have a child, there is a myriad of emotions involved as they breach a new life stage where nothing is clear-cut. Jane Cafarella explores some of these innate complexities in her play e-baby, as Catherine, an industrious woman with a flourishing legal career, enlists the help of Nellie, a surrogate, to have a baby.
Cafarella’s play is pertinent in a society still struggling to get its head around the ethics of surrogacy. Catherine says that her interest is particularly in the legal rights of women. And yet still questions arise as she uses Nellie’s body as a vessel to carry her baby to term. To what extent can you consent to another person’s use of your body? What pressures do women face in determining whether or not to get an abortion? How far is too far? Cafarella tackles innumerable ethical dilemmas without dictating her point of view or oversimplifying matters which are not easily objectively determined. It doesn’t feel like a preach-fest for her point of view – the play is entertaining and light and yet still manages strong engagement with seriously important issues. It’s quite something.
e-baby is a two woman show. Danielle Carter plays Catherine and Gabrielle Scawthorn plays Nellie…and what a team they are. Perfectly cast, they are beautifully complementary with completely contrasting personalities, able to unite through this deeply personal experience. Together, their comic timing is idyllic. They have the audience eating out of the palm of their hand and have a gorgeous rapport. Carter is efficacious and immaculately put-together as Catherine, with a desperate longing to be a mother. Scawthorn is haphazard and effervescent as Nellie with a relatable disregard for the absurd health tricks and tips levelled at mothers. But overwhelmingly, she has a desire to do something important. As a Catholic woman, this is a fascinating seesaw of altruism and the religious weigh-in to the moral and ethical debate.
Nadia Tass’ direction opts to incorporate various forms of technology into the performance, with both live and pre-recorded video through skype calls on stage and video blogging. The whole play feels very current and represents a realistic relationship between two women in different countries (Catherine in London and Nellie in the US). Tobiyah Stone Feller’s set design is versatile enough to depict multiple different settings and also poses a continual subtle reminder of the fledgling life at stake in the process.
e-baby is an utterly beautiful play with all the right ingredients to get your teeth into something both delicious and satisfying. Cafarella’s script hits all the right notes, Tass’ direction is flexible in navigating the emotional crevasse of this story and performances by Carter and Scawthorn are divine. When an audience is effortlessly made to think, laugh and cry, a slice of the human experience is shared – what more could you ask for.