As much of an exploration of sisterhood as to being a woman, Baby Box is a fresh take on female identity and the unspoken aspects of the journey to adulthood. Written by Laura McGrady and directed by Helena Jackson, focuses on Chloe and Jamie – sisters who have also been an intimate part of each other’s lives.
Beginning in 2005, we meet 13-year-old Chloe (Sarah Cullum) in bed on Christmas morning. While older sister Jamie (Laura McGrady) is up early and excited, Chloe is uncharacteristically reticent and worried that her ‘childhood’ is over. Of course Christmas coincides with another ‘natal’ event… Chloe’s first menstrual discharge…
There are other plays that deal with growing up and sisterhood, but McGrady deftly blends the usual subjects of boyfriends, sex and confidences with the more intimate aspects of bodily functions. In Chloe’s case it is suffering with endometriosis since the onset of puberty. While modern science knows much about diseases and the human body, when it comes to areas related to ‘women’s bits’, this knowledge drops considerably and more often than not, ailments are assumed until proven wrong to be psychosomatic in origin. While there a number of reasons why sex can be painful for women, in Chloe’s case it’s do with an abnormal build-up of uterine lining that develops into cysts and progresses to the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Because of the unfamilar nature of this condition, Chloe is disbelieved and it creates havoc at important events. But through it all, Jamie has her back. Had Jamie not been in Chloe’s life, the play would have been different and Chloe herself wouldn’t have found the positivity or fortitude to make it through her darkest times. That’s not to say that the bad times wouldn’t have happened at all. Just that they would have ultimately got the better of her.
However, Jamie in the play is more than just her ‘sister’s keeper’. Her own arc offers a disparate, but complementary take on what it is that defines true womanhood. For sufferers of breast cancer, masectomies can raise these sorts of questions. In Chloe’s case, what with the complications of her ‘baby box’, her inability to have children is soul-destroying – echoing the anguish portrayed in Federico García Lorca’s Yerma. As hard as this is for Chloe, Jamie’s news is met by disbelief by the whole family, for whom “Christmas is cancelled”.
The chemistry between Cullum and McGrady really sells the closesness of the sister’s relationship – warm, but at times honest to a fault. And while uterine conditions continue to be talked about (if at all) in hushed tones, Baby Box goes some way to bringing these ailments unashamedly to the light of day and a paeon to sisterhood in its own right.
© Michael Davis 2018
Baby Box runs at King’s Head Theatre until 6th May as part of the Who Runs The World? season.