Illumine Theatre’s first production, 2023, explores the results of the 2005 law change on the release of sperm donor’s personal information. In the year 2023, the law comes into effect when those conceived by donation turn 18 and have the right to access information on their donor parent, including their full name, address and family medical history. The production brings this soon-to-be-reality to Cardiff, as Mary seeks out her sperm donor father, Chris, looking for explanations and answers. Their meeting unravels each of the characters, as it disrupts Chris’ life in unexpected ways and reveals cracks in his relationship with his partner, John. Despite the circumstances, a relationship between Mary and Chris is formed, one of tender awkwardness and maternal connection.
2023 is wonderfully written by Lisa Parry, it tackles a sensitive topic with intelligence and creativity. It is funny without being too light, and emotive without being too heavy. The script is playful in its approaches to same-sex relationships and deafness and makes for well-developed, relatable characters. It’s refreshing to see a gay couple and deaf woman at the heart of a production without their sexuality or deafness being central to the plot, but more as parts of the mechanics of the story.
These characters are performed with great care by Stephanie Back, Tom Blumberg and Richard Elis. The three have great chemistry with each other. As the formations of the family unit break down, and tension unfurls from explosive arguments, there remains humour in the way they show affection for one another.
Parry has invested a strong sense of place in the production, set in post-Brexit Cardiff, and a strong sense of Welshness created through settings, the use of Welsh language and cultural references. This is important; this is an imagined version of the near future, and a strong footing sets everything up nicely. Sleek design by Kitty Callister and music by Matt Hall contribute to making the futuristic setting believable. At first, the technological advances and changes to the environmental climate might perhaps feel too much, though when reminded of the pace that everything is changing in 2018, this new reality becomes plausible, if no more welcomed. The problem here is in the overload of exposition and context, and at times this can feel unnatural in the dialogue.
2023 is relevant in the way it explores the ethics of donation and gene selection. It imagines the impact of genetic selection and ‘designer babies’, questioning the morality on the topic in relation to deafness. On donation, it explores the many reasons people choose to donate, and the implications the 2005 law will have on donors and those born by donation. It’s surprising to find little coverage in mainstream media on the end of donor anonymity, which resulted in a decline in sperm donation.
2023 is thought-provoking. It challenges ideas of the make-up of the conventional family, suggesting that there is no ‘right’ way to go about things, but it is also heart-warming in the way it shows that love and friendship can be found in unlikely places.
2023 is on at Chapter in Cardiff until October 13th.
(Photo credit: Kirsten McTernan)