Genesis by Frazer Flintham opens with the voice of a young girl, seen only as a dandelion-blowing silhouette, describing delightfully detailed plans for her eight-year-old self. It’s a simple, gentle opening that turns out to be a far cry from the play’s real nature.
Genetics professor Rachel (Helen Bradbury) takes a ‘tunnel vision’ approach to life, focusing exclusively on her teenaged daughter, Jade (Joanna Nicks), and shrugging off her own changes of circumstance. Pouring energy into Jade’s prep for the Oxford admissions process, Rachel fails to admit her own nerves when addressing potential mutations within her body.
A stellar career researching breast cancer has seen Rachel develop strong views on the importance of knowledge as a means of controlling fate. It is then, of course, a great irony that this bold woman’s undoing is her cluelessness about the person she cares about most: Jade. Mirroring the patients’ inheritance of mutations from parents, Rachel has passed onto her daughter the obsessive notion that knowledge is power. Yet the mother-daughter relationship is fraught with the tension of trying to shield the other from hurt – at the risk of never sharing thoughts and feelings. Jade does not want to know everything in the first instance and the relationship crashes after a series of miscommunications ties too many knots in their crossed wires.
The storyline is navigated exclusively by women; occasional mentions of male presences swing in and out at the whims of the mother, daughter and Rachel’s colleague Jenny (Charlotte Melia). This all-female cast gives a dynamic, tight performance. Flinthan’s dialogue, meanwhile, is fast-paced and witty. For those familiar with Gilmore Girls, imagine a mother-daughter relationship akin to this – but while Rachel and her daughter initially give the impression of closeness, this sours as the play moves along.
Besides the familial relationship, the playwright also explores the difficulties wound up in the friendship between Rachel and Jenny. When personal values and choices veer into the workplace in a highly conspicuous way, the protagonists struggle to handle it. Behind patients’ backs Rachel has previously mocked their reactions to hearing cancer risk stats and commented that they could be hit by a bus in any case – she does not, it seems, suffer ‘fools’ gladly. Both frustrated and amused by any attempt to duck away from invasive treatment, Rachel fights with her colleague when issues become a little closer to home.
Artistic director Charlotte Bennet was inspired to create Genesis after seeing actress Morag Siller suffering from incurable breast cancer. As a completed work, it’s a intriguing production that replays and replays in the mind. Nothing is clear-cut; grey areas blot out any black-and-white judgements on characters’ actions – impressively so, given Rachel’s often quite off-key approaches to situations. It all combines to make an invigorating brainteaser on the clashes of science and emotion.
Genesis was on at the Soho Theatre. Click here for more details.