Fresh from her critically acclaimed play Consent, Nina Raine returns to the National Theatre with a new piece on maternal desire
A review by Susy Brett
Stories follows Anna (Claudie Blakley), a 39-year-old woman who is desperate to have a baby. Fresh from a failed romance with a younger man, Anna navigates her way through various options to fulfil her dream of motherhood. She consults her family, browses sperm bank options and even starts to asks the men in her life if they can help out.
An innate yearning to be a mother is at the heart of Stories. It boasts a snappy start, as Anna and a man who has agreed to be her donor, Felix (Sam Troughton), handle the awkwardness of their shared situation. How Anna gets to this moment is the focus of a play that is warm and funny, though lacks drama.
It is an inspired choice to have one man play every single potential father approached by Anna, with Sam Troughton having the time of his life in six different roles. He is hysterical as a talkative vegetarian, while on the flip side offers an interesting take on anxiety and the pressure of impending fatherhood. It is fair to say he is an audience pleaser, and the action on stage is never dull when he is on it.
Elsewhere, Blakley is convincing in her honest yearning for a child. Brian Vernel shines in a late emotional scene, while Stephen Boxer, Thusitha Jayasundera and Margot Leicester round out a capable and funny supporting cast.
The set is modern and slick, moving seamlessly to create different settings (usually the various homes of the men Anna is asking for help with procreating). It is impressive how much can be done with so little, though it is not so innovative that we have not seen it before. The music during transitions is a highlight, conveying the emotion of the moment perfectly – at times upbeat, and other times emotional.
In general, Stories’ comedy is on form. However, it does not hit hard enough when it comes to drama. There should be a lot of drama in Anna’s situation. She believes her time is running out and she is so desperate she even stops being overly picky about potential fathers. None of this is really explored in any great depth, instead preferring to focus on yet another new character and potential father. This means Stories, which is around two and a half hours long, starts to become repetitive quickly.
Nonetheless, there is potential. One late scene sees an exchange between Anna and the son of an anonymous sperm donor. This is thoughtful, touching and clever – provoking real debate and interest into the subject. Unfortunately it arrives too late in the play to be properly unpacked.
In all honesty, I’m not sure what the point was of Stories. Was it a comedy about a woman desperate for a child? Was it an observation as to the lengths a woman will go to achieve motherhood? Was it a debate about choosing a father one knows or anonymity, or even the impact that could potentially have on a child? Stories made little attempt to properly grab any of these issues by the teeth, and by not doing so felt long.
Stories is a funny, if frustrating, story of one woman’s desire to have a baby. Although the comedy and acting talent involved is excellent, Stories struggles for lack of drama and pace.