There’s an inherent dramatic weight to storylines about conceiving a child. Depending on the obstacles, emotions can be fraught and even though both ‘parents’ may want a natural birth, one person (usually the intended mother) feels the strongest about this. In Turkey – Frankie Meredith’s first full length play – this paradigm is very much present, though there is also the added dimension of gender politics.
Three years ago, Ben Ockrent’s Breeders focused on a lesbian couple who decide to have a child through artificial insemination. An open-minded brother became the sperm donor and while the play was about ‘family’, it was very much played for laughs. Not so with Turkey. True enough, in Meredith’s play there’s also a same-sex couple who considers having a baby, but from the beginning there are emotional consequences to everything. Also, regardless of what’s said, the truth is never cut-and-dried.
Directed by Niall Phillips, Turkey opens with the first occasion that Madeline (Peyvand Sadeghian) spends the night with Toni (Harriet Green). The morning is quite revealing as Madeline makes a Freudian slip about hoping she’s not gay, which she automatically retracts after she realises Toni heard her. Madeline blames the alcohol they consumed for the previous night’s events, but Toni points out Madeline’s the one who came to her place with the alcohol and must have had an idea this would happen. This is an important argument, because whether one believes it or not, it colours one’s perspective on future events in the play.
Madeline and Toni know each other from university when both knew someone called Ben – Madeline was his girlfriend, while Toni was his best friend. Ben’s death during those halcyon days casts a big shadow over all the characters in the play and the main influence for Madeline’s choice of sperm donor. Despite her own misfivings, Toni raises the subject of sperm donation with her brothers. She’s mortified not only by their reaction, but also by her father unexpectedly being present. Cue Plan B… Madeleine always got along with Ben’s father, Michael (Cameron Robertson) – largely because they had the same positive qualities, which leads her to think he might be sympathetic to their situation. Upon visiting him, reminiscing about Ben awakens all sorts of feelings and a potentially awkward evening becomes immeasurably more complicated…
Running throughout the play is the thread of emotional dissonance – the ‘acceptable’ emotions the characters display on the surface being in conflict with what’s felt deep down. Aside from Madeline’s own Freudian slip, Toni inadvertently expresses her own disgust at the idea of herself being pregnant. From this point the seed of doubt is sown: is Toni only going along with Madeline’s quest for motherhood so that she stays?
Meredith ramps up the tension by adding further, pertinent questions to the mix regarding ‘rationality’ versus sexual politics. In a rare moment of vehemence, Madeline rebukes Toni for baulking at the cost of raising a child and argues that for heterosexual couples it’s a spontaneous event that’s initially celebrated – that they only worry about the long-term cost once the situation has sunk in. Of course, some heterosexual couples do plan when they’re to have children, deciding when they can ‘afford it’, but Madeline’s assertion suggests she begrudges the ‘inconveniences’ of the same-sex lifestyle. Also bearing in mind later events in the play, it would be more accurate to say Madeline is bisexual. That in itself is perfectly fine, but Toni’s insistence Madeline’s 100% gay and Madeline’s inability to talk frankly about her sexuality leads to problems down the line.
By the end of the play, the audience has to decide why the chain of events have transpired. Certainly there’s no evidence of Hedda Gabler-esque levels of premeditated behvaviour. However, all the characters to some degree are guilty of not being honest with themselves about what they want or about the likely, long-term repercussions of their actions. Turkey on the surface is about the decision to create life, but on closer scrutiny it is about health and longevity of relationships in the absence of transparency.
© Michael Davis 2017
Turkey runs at the Hope Theatre until 14th October.