While plays address a great many different subjects, dealing with fertility issues and miscarriages is still something that has yet to capture the imagination and ‘sense of urgency’ of playwrights at large. Noticing this ‘absence’, Peter Taylor has written and directed a play that addresses the multilayered emotions that a couple encounters at such times.
Jack (Howard Horner) visits Ellie (Lindsey Cross) at her family home by the sea. After experiencing a number of pregnancies that do not naturally reach full-term, the latest ‘episode’ is the breaking point for Ellie. Foregoing daily responsibilities and commitments, Ellie’s ‘refuge’ is the space she needs to withdrawal from routines without recrimination. Her ‘pain’ demands to be felt.
On a regular basis, Jack ventures down to Ellie’s residence to drop off basic supplies and check in on her. It’s important to note that while Ellie is deliberately shutting herself away, she and Jack aren’t ‘estranged’ – at least in the sense that she will still see him and ask him questions about ‘ the world outside’. At the time that we see Jack visit, Ellie offers to make him a cup of tea – an innocuous gesture, but in terms of its significance after the ‘drought’ of inaction, a positive step.
While a large propotion of the play sees Jack trying to be supportive to Ellie (but give her the space she needs) we also see the strain that this has on him, plus his own feelings on the matter and how it’s affected his ability to function.
When talking about fertilily issues in general, some people may find the notion too painful or ‘raw’ to process ‘full on’ and it’s something River In The Sky avoids. Instead, the play shows that even for those dealing with the ramifications of fertility issues, speaking frankly and directly is seldom on the cards.
Actors Horner and Cross aren’t afraid to immerse themselves in the material and the inner lives of the couple. Aided by Taylor’s style of prosaic way with words, they strike a balance between naturalism and fleshing out the nuanced, emotional core of the characters.
As a counterpoint to the solemnity that takes place later, Taylor opens the play with an optimistic scene, when the future was an open road. Showing the couple near the beginning of their relationship, we see them playfully ‘negotiate’ the amount of children they will have in years to come. Little do they know that with what comes ahead, they would be happy with two, three or even one child. Anything except the neverending heartbreak, which breaks their spirit.
For Jack and Ellie, their ‘thing’ is the telling of stories – retelling and reframing their lives as a narrative that has meaning, that is part of the larger tapestry of life. While this entertaining, if indirect, way of looking at things may hinder their response to speak candidly without embellishment, the fact that they talk even when the wellspring of hope has all but dried up speaks volumes about the foundations of their relationship. There may even be enough ‘emotional capital’ between them to contemplate a future with just the two of them…
© Michael Davis 2019
River In The Sky runs at Hope Theatre until 24th August.