Please go and see The Quiet House. This is a play no-one would have written a decade ago, or maybe even five years ago because it is concerned with something we don’t talk about enough: the utter agony of infertility and the visceral reality and cultural shame of IVF treatment. It still baffles me why we can’t talk about it freely given 1 in 6 couple struggle to conceive, and infertility rates continue to increase. But Gareth Farr – who won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2011 for Britannia Waves the Rules – was courageous enough to put fingers to keyboard to craft an arrestingly moving narrative of a couple’s fraught journey to make a baby.
Jess and Dylan are a 30 something urban couple, ostensibly with everything going for them – glittering careers, good looks and health, an IKEA home and bags of reasonable hope for their future family – ‘to fill their home with noise’. They live beneath Kim, a harried new mother who is struggling to cope with the demands of her newborn and comes to represent one of the many tricky relationships Jess, and Dylan, both have to negotiate as their efforts to conceive become increasingly stressful. So Kim is welcomed as a friend at first, but later becomes a conduit for unconscious envy and ambivalence – Jess doesn’t want her baby, she wants her own, yet we don’t waver in our sympathy as her increasing despair over not being a mother means a brief ‘kidnap’ of Kim’s baby.
Farr masterfully weaves a number of themes without their co-existence or appearance ever feeling contrived – we experience Dylan’s feelings of inadequacy at ‘being a Jaffa’ for having low sperm quality, how he feels the shame in the pub with his mates, how he struggles to come clean to his David Brent-esque boss about what is going on. He breaks down at how badly he feels at Jess’s emotional and physical suffering: ‘All I have to do is wank’ – while we witness him giving Jess nightly injections of synthetic hormones. Jess equally struggles to maintain her professional breezy persona and powerfully conveys the rollercoaster they are both unwillingly strapped into: the elation of the embryos growing well, followed by the despair of a negative pregnancy test. Most movingly though, we hear her talking to her retrieved eggs, and imagined baby, in such striking terms that it re-convinces me of how women can forge profound and very real relationships with their un-conceived. I hear about these relationships in my consulting room time and again.
Farr is unflinching in hammering home to us how bloody brutal non-conception can be, and I’m delighted he has been.