It’s an old feminist adage that the personal is political – and it doesn’t get much more personal than this. Climate change has been everywhere this Fringe, but Play Before Birth tackles an especially tricky aspect of it: "should we be continuing to have children?"
The show deftly interrogates the intersections of feminism and environmentalism
It’s a brave choice of topic and Coast to Coast theatre deserve credit for posing this crucial question. The four-woman cast carefully unpick its ethical complexities, asking: "is it fair on the unborn to bring them into a world in ecological collapse?" And, given the huge environmental damage that each new person causes, "how can spawning another human be justified?"
The story centres on Klara (Rachel Nicholson), a 21-year graduate who is chronically demoralised by the state of the world and who, when she finds herself pregnant, decides on an impulse to keep it. Soon doubts set in and are made worse when Moira arrives. Moira (Ellie Martland) is an environmental activist – intense, nihilistic, and uncompromising on her principles. She announces that she had herself surgically sterilised to ensure she never has children and she urges Klara to terminate her pregnancy.
The show deftly interrogates the intersections of feminism and environmentalism. Moira recounts the hostility she received from male doctors when she told them she wanted to be sterilised. Understandably, she condemns their patriarchal attempt to control her body – and yet she has no qualms about telling Klara what to do with hers. The show questions the centrality of motherhood in norms of femininity and how affronted people become when women deviate from this script by forgoing children.
All four actors do a sterling job, but in foregrounding its themes the show’s character development suffers. Moira, for instance, is reduced to a parody of a hysterical eco-worrior, despite Martlend’s best efforts. As the play starts to exhaust all the angles the writer seems unsure how to end it. They do not, in the end, advocate unequivocal anti-natalism and a sprinkling of climate protest songs injects an occasional note of hope.
The questions it raises will follow you out the auditorium; after this brave production, it’ll be very interesting to see what the company does next.