Mary’s Babies is inspired by the story of fertility treatment pioneers Mary Barton and her husband Bertold Wiesner. Between the 1930s and 1960s they used Bertold’s sperm to inseminate up to 1,000 women before destroying the records.
Set in 2007, Maud Dromgoole’s play imagines a set of encounters between some of those grown-up children as they discover that they have hundreds of half-siblings.
Dromgoole doesn’t make things easy for the audience. Over 90 minutes we are presented with 39 characters played by two actors. Some scenes are so short they are over before you’ve worked out who’s speaking. It helps to have their names lit up in picture frames on the wall.
Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens brilliantly bring these diverse personalities to life.
I particularly liked Kieran, the nervous but big-hearted “little dweeb” who spearheads the efforts to get “Barton’s Brood” together. Stephens plays him so well that his presence acts as a helpful anchor amid the multifarious encounters.
Another standout is Fielding’s straight-talking Registrar who shares a laugh-out-loud scene about birth certificates with Bret, a character who wouldn’t be out of place in EastEnders.
Not all of it works. I was baffled by a somewhat surreal scene with a ventriloquist in a hospital car park.
But the writing is whip-smart. It brims with poetry, wordplay and passages that prompt tears.
This is my second Maud Dromgoole play in a month. Here’s my review of 3 Billion Seconds.
I look forward to seeing what she conceives next.
Mary’s Babies is at Jermyn Street Theatre in London until 13 April.