Ensemble Theatre’s penultimate show for 2016 is Jane Cafarella’s e-baby, an exploration into the complexities, both emotional and physical, of surrogacy pregnancies.

This new Australian play charts the story of Catherine (Danielle Carter), a 46-year old Australian ex-pat who’s suffered through eighteen failed IVF attempts and eleven years of trying and dreaming of having a child of her own. Catherine’s last resort is surrogacy, so she fills out an application in search of the perfect candidate. Here we meet Nellie (Gabrielle Scawthorne), a working class mother of two from Massachusetts, Boston. Two total opposite worlds collide: Catherine, a high-flying lawyer to whom money is no issue; and Nellie, who eats sugary cereal from the box and wears a crucifix around her neck. On paper they’re the perfect match, but cracks soon begin to show.

e-baby-02Inspired by real-life stories of women who have experienced infertility and chosen surrogacy as an alternative, Cafarella’s play is obviously well-researched. It delves into the ethical issues surrounding this type of conception and presents it as a dialogue between two very different women. While not always smooth and natural, Cafarella’s script is thought-provoking and, at times, very moving.

Carter as perfectly coiffed and sleek Catherine gives a polished performance. Her agony and desperation is well observed without being gratuitous. Scawthorne is vivd and illuminating as Nellie, and her exceptional comedy skills shine. She does at times seem a little demonstrative, but cements herself as a skilled storyteller. Both give empathetic, insightful and moving performances.

As they live in different cities, Catherine and Nellie communicate through Skype, which is ingeniously projected onto the back wall of Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s minimalist set. Amplifying emotional moments for the audience, this device allows us to see close-ups of their faces and be a fly on the wall for tough conversations. Lights by Nick Higgins softly support, although with such rapid blackouts at the end of scenes some emotional character development is sacrificed in favour of pace.

Director Nadia Tass has created an economical and entertaining production, but the play doesn’t delve as deeply as it could into its professed topic. Rather, it gives a gentle education to the uneducated on the intricacies of surrogacy. It skims the surface like a light comedy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when women’s rights over our bodies are being condemned, scrutinised and attacked now more than ever, it does feel like there’s something more to give.

Playing at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until 13th November.

Alana Kaye – Theatre Now