Daniel Nelson

Lorna Brown, Brian Ferguson, Philip Goldacre, Salma Hoque, Justine Mitchell and Hannah Rae have been cast in Vivienne Franzmann’s Bodies

Lorna Brown, Brian Ferguson, Philip Goldacre, Salma Hoque, Justine Mitchell and Hannah Rae have been cast in Vivienne Franzmann’s Bodies

Image by Royal Court

The opening scene suggests a plot spoiler, because it's a teenagery exchange between concerned, loving mother Clem and rebellious, affectionate daughter: the surrogacy, based on a Russian egg fertilised by husband Josh must have been successful.

But writer Vivienne Franzmann is too deft to allow an audience to get away with such a straightforward assumption. The daughter is not all she seems and the focus stays on the pregnancy 4,200 miles away, in India, and on its impact, especially on the relationship between Clem and her motor neurone-stricken father.

Squeezed between pressures stemming from the beginning and end of life, by foetuses and old age, 43-year-old Clem starts to crack. The hammer blow comes with an Indian government instruction that the surrogacy agency cannot take on more foreign clients.

As the pressures escalate, it becomes clear that creating and buttressing Clem's middle-class English security depends on buying in human services from poorer countries - and that the consequences on the foreign assistance may be high, even catastrophic. The surrogate mother, Lakshmi, has been forced to put her own children at risk in order to earn the money she needs to look after them. And Clem's dad's carer, too, has a child "back home", as well as the 16-year-old who is with her in UK. (Interesting how Black women sometimes fulfil the role of humane, down-to-earth, life-affirming advisers and carers, just as elderly, wise, compassionate Black men stand in for God: it's the other side of racism.)

These Asian and African lives begin to look like collatoral damage in the struggle for Europe's good life, a point underlined in the final minutes when Lakshmi and her son finally take the spotlight and Oni delivers a message of reconciliation. But fear not, Bodies concentrates on telling a dramatic story, which it does in an intense, entertaining 100 minutes.

* Bodies is at the Royal Court theatre, Sloane Square, SW1, until 12 August. Info: 7565 5000/ https://royalcourttheatre.com/

 

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