Somewhere, there exists a great theatrical epic on the subject of IVF: Genesis Inc is sadly not it. Over a far from easy two hours and forty minutes, seemingly disparate characters are drawn together through the titular fertility clinic, a clean nightmare of screens and plush sofas. A place happy to charge for a five-minute chat and which profits every time someone desperate doesn’t conceive, however many times they’ve tried.
The stage is set for something significant, but Jemma Kennedy’s script constrains the actors and ultimately the subject with its predictable relationships, arcs and heavy-handed themes. There are gestures towards grander things which remain merely gestures: having characters place faith opposite to science in their arguments over getting pregnant, dropping “magic” into half of their interactions together and fighting over whether reproductive science makes men “gods” does not a thoughtful play make.
The characters are all extremely wealthy, even Miles, the neurotic music teacher desperate to own his own property, played by Arthur Darvill. Fertility options are in no way cheap, and Kennedy is keenly aware of this. Yet still Genesis Inc lacks bite, perhaps because there’s no real reason to care what happens to these rather dull characters: everything that happens to them is visible from miles away, from the farcical switching on of a baby monitor to broadcast a private conversation, to Miles’ eventual sperm donation to Serena (Ritu Arya). Clare Perkins’ Sharon is the only working-class character, and the play isn’t concerned with her – her purpose is to bring perspective to Jeff (Oliver Alvin-Wilson), her social worker, and to provide down-to-earth witticisms.
But the play simply isn’t as witty as it thinks it is, nor as it should be: a conversation between a woman, her womb, vagina, ovaries and Karl Marx should be one of the most memorable moments of the theatrical year, especially when said womb is voiced by Jenni Murray of Women’s Hour. Apart from knowing this scene happened, however, I can’t say another thing about it. Several lines which seem to have been intended as edgy quotables fall flat, too. It’s not particularly original to have the brash banker Bridget (Laura Howard) tell her best friend Miles “Just don’t break out into any cabaret numbers – they’ll never guess you’re a sodomite.” We’ve heard it all before.
One of the more awkward aspects is the “race stuff”, as I tend to think of it: clumsy attempts at humour and understanding which land awkwardly among the nearly entirely white audience of the Hampstead. Jeff and Serena scream at each other in one of their several arguments, in front of a stranger, “Try being a black man!” “Try being a brown woman!” This is a very forced depiction of an interracial relationship: these conversations (if had) are had so much earlier. Similarly, Kiki the receptionist tells off Jeff for describing the ‘theft’ of his sperm by his ex-girlfriend as “rape” incorrectly only to be kissed forcefully by Harry Enfield’s Dr Marshall in exuberance, while a vision of the hypothetical teenager which the aborted baby of Bridget and Miles might have become declares “Actually, I identify as non-binary.” Both moments are meant the same way: throwaway punchlines. Safe.
On paper, Genesis Inc reads like these jokes: a sure thing. It’s racially diverse, with an ever more pertinent subject matter, moments of fantasy wherein the whole cast take up parts in the story of Abraham and Sarah, an appearance of Susan Sontag when a man is trying to masturbate into a plastic cup, and it even ends with an original piano ballad performed by Darvill. And even if no-one was asking for that last part, a better play must exist somewhere, using the same clear understanding of the fertility business Kennedy has, but doing something with it.