Breeding

Breeding by Barry McStay is everything it promises to be. Directed by Tom Ratcliffe, it is funny and moving at the same time, navigating the complex road to adoption from the perspective of two gay men. 

Zeb (Dan Nicholson) and Eoin (Barry McStay) have very weird names but want to do the “normal” thing and have a baby, except they cannot fornicate during a drunken night and conveniently pop out a baby nine months later. Their road to parenthood is hence filled with a rigorous assessment of their suitability, with Beth (Nemide May) put in charge of their adoption case. 

Through a million invasive questions and interrogations into their histories and mentalities, Zeb and Eoin have to prove again and again and yet again how much they love a child that has not even been assigned to them yet.  With their entire lives put in the spotlight with no guarantee they will even be successful, the whole business of adoption feels so much like a game.  The production design therefore resembles a mix between a board game and the set of a game show. 

Jac Cooper’s sound design includes a mix of soothing beeps and boops that feel both urgent and relaxing at the same time.

Ruby Law’s set is made up of colourful squares with indecipherable words printed on them forming the backdrop, similar to the colour-coded assessment workbook Beth uses during repeated interview sessions. Enlarged toy blocks are stacked like a podium, doubling up as storage space and moved about to denote scene changes.

Combined with Rachel Sampley’s dynamic lighting and video design, the stage’s colour palette is a stark contrast to Law’s costume styling of dark greys and blues, portraying the couple as regular, ordinary people who find themselves in an unordinary, unusual situation.

While the production makes great use of the space, sightline issues at the very beginning starts the whole experience off on a weaker foot. Some softer moments of naturalistic interaction also tend to get swallowed up by the large space.

That being said, Barry McStay’s writing is full of warmth and wit. The actors do not have to do much but trust such a compelling script to grab everyone’s attention. 

Quite early on, the audience is sucked into the characters’ world, and they stay easily in it for the entire show. Even lines as cheesy as, “you’re not afraid of heights, you’re just afraid to jump” are easily excused, because the simplicity and uninventiveness of it makes the characters’ relationships all the more believable.

McStay fills his character of Eoin with so much love and yearning, it spills over into Zeb and Beth, whose personalities are much more stoic than Eoin’s. However, opposites attract and the audience cannot help but root for the husbands from the get-go. Despite having hippy parents and a wild streak within him, Zeb is the more grounded of the two, thus making any explosive moments feel quite terrifying, however justified.

Breeding packs in a ton of humour, and also carries hope, heartbreak, longing and loss. It is superbly written and expertly delivered. Ultimately, it is a gorgeous, effervescent portrayal of unconditional love, and how that love transcends biology and a very tedious bureaucracy. 

This show was reviewed on the 25th March 2024 at the King's Head Theatre, London where it runs until the 14th April 2024.  Tickets available here: Breeding | What's On | King's Head Theatre (kingsheadtheatre.com)

Review written by Penelope Bao

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Photo credit: Ed Rees

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