Between Us at the Arcola
British feminist playwright, Sarah Daniels brings this play about adoption to the stage at the Arcola Theatre. Through short monologues and simulated sessions with an unseen therapist, Julia (Charlotte Cornwell), Dave (Callum Dixon) and Teresa (Georgina Rich) explore their experiences of adoption. The set, consisting of a single tub seat, immediately establishes the confessional nature of the play, which opens with Julia, a successful psychotherapist who moonlights as a rather mediocre stand-up comedian. And it’s soon evident that Julia is not supposed to deliver cyclical belly-laughs but instead cause us to query the role of women in a modern-day world, layering Daniels’ feminist roots in tackling subjects such child-bearing and marriage: “Biology gets in the way of equality,” Julia notes, “but now we can talk about it”.
Working-class New Age Londoner, Dave (who chose to become a builder after studying accounting at public school) speaks first to Julia, depressed after the birth of his daughter and worried for her safety in a modern world still seeping in sexism. At first, he wants a quick fix – some pills to take the edge of his depression – but quickly opens up about his childhood and family. But it’s Teresa’s story that is more absorbing: an upper-class woman who, together with her husband, left child-rearing too late and struggles to mother their adopted children. We also learn that Julia harbours a dark secret.
It is through these piecemeal scenes that Daniels explores the merits of adoption, pulsating on the nurture versus nature debate. How far from the tree does the fruit fall? Is it possible to love a child that is not biologically yours? Should we really give up on children because we cannot cope? What happens when we want to turn back the clock?
Although Daniels is bold in her ideas and the actors do a commendable job, Between Us does struggle to truly captivate. The therapeutic setting only distances the audience from the characters’ experiences, and despite delivery of occasionally good thigh-slappers, Julia’s monologues feel a little weighty. The play is more successful in the few fleeting scenes between Julia and her adoptive daughter (also played by Rich), allowing us to empathise with the relationship between the characters and their predicament.
Nonetheless, Daniels manages to pack many issues into little more than an hour, and it certainly feels as though she has a lot to say. The experience does lack some emotional depth and you are left wanting more, but what Daniels achieves in a short time is stimulating, beautifully acted and thoroughly thought-provoking.
Between Us is on at the Arcola Theatre until 21st June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.