Review: Seed (BATS Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
With New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern currently on maternity leave, becoming the first elected leader ever to do so, this seems a fitting time for Elisabeth Easther's "Seed" - a modern play of interweaving stories on the difficulties of getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and becoming un-pregnant. Directed by Kerryn Palmer, this comedy-melodrama is concluding its national tour in Wellington's BATS and hopes that its final push will deliver a strong performance.
The plot follows two sets of two friends, one of which is trying to get pregnant and one of which accidentally does in each case. The first we are introduced to is Hillary (Sophie Hambleton), a government employee trying desperately to conceive her second child with her husband. She's sassy, sarcastic, and very independent. Then we have Maggie (Emily Regtien), who falls pregnant to an ex-boyfriend after her IUD fails. She's sassy, sarcastic, and very independent. Soon after we see Shelly (Hannah Brooks), a career-driven mother and wife who forgets her pill and has to ask herself what she will do next. She's sassy, sarcastic, and very independent. Finally, we meet Virginia (Carrie Green), a midwife who, after spending day after day delivering babies, is desperate to have one of her own if only she can persuade/trick a man into giving her a hand. She's sassy, sarcastic, you get the idea.
Easther seems to have approached this play with an intention to have her female characters defy their stereotype (and, to an extent, for her male ones to be confined to theirs). They make crass jokes, they objectify men, they don't care how society views them for being ambitious, unmarried, or being outside of any of the other ludicrous norms women are expected to fulfil. Writing like that is to be applauded, and there are a few quality innuendos sprinkled into the script, but ironically the protest characterisation creates a new formulaic female figure that is rewritten four times. If you take away their individual circumstances, it can be difficult to pinpoint anything that makes them unique.
As a result, it is difficult to see "Seed" as the empowering and enlightening work it is getting praised as. Nonetheless, it can still have entertainment value if the direction can do it justice and the performances can give each character enough personality to propel them. The opening, though I am unsure whether to give credit to Palmer's direction or Easther's writing, sees a projection of flowers blooming, bees collecting pollen, and close-ups of sperm in Petri dishes. It's a bold and broad opening that sets the scene perfectly, reconnecting the concept of fertility with its natural beauty before the play turns its focus to pregnancy within the context of society. Though some of the transitions seem a little forced, Palmer's direction has a strong grip on the tone, from melancholic to light-hearted, and with the comic timing of all the character's risqué zingers usually hitting the spot.
Hambleton and Regtien are perfectly likeable in their roles, and though at times Hambleton risks becoming too irritable to be pleasant, their chemistry and the tense twist to their relationship make for enjoyable light viewing. Brooks plays what could be the most controversial character in the play, making decisions that will test the morals of some audience members trying to maintain sisterly support, and to my mind is the most difficult role to play. Unfortunately, I found Brooks' performance to be remarkably stubborn and grumpy, prioritising being strong-willed over being conflicted and complex. Green, however, utterly steals the show. Her timing, expressions, and gestures, right down to her drunk dancing as she tries to entice an unsuspecting colleague of Shelly's into bed, had me and the rest of the audience in fits of giggles. She knows just how long to drag jokes out for, for example, her cringing face as she has a date with a willing but undesirable potential father, and her desperation and determination are believable throughout. ("I need donor sperm! Wonder if they sell that on Trade Me?")
In its final moments, everything is wrapped up, with some sad and some happy endings. The performances plays out a bit like a sitcom. It is entertaining, sure, but given the themes, you could be forgiven for expecting more; either in the way of laughs or utilising more of their challenging themes. "Seed" goes to prove that sometimes your baby is more beautiful and fascinating to you than it is to anyone else. Three stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
"It was good from a guy's perspective, I never would have seen these kind of experiences otherwise."