Hampstead Theatre presents Jemma Kennedy’s breakthrough play directed by Laurie Sansom. Tom Preson was there to review Genesis Inc. for Miro.

Genesis Inc., a satire in which human reproduction is poised to become privatised, falters in what is crucial to satire: comedy. Too often the humour fails, or fails to materialise at all. Dream sequences with talking vaginas, argumentative ovaries and a visit from Karl Marx simply fall flat. Over a bloated running time and ambitious array of characters, writer Jemma Kennedy presents us with a muddled story of hungry capitalism, how it can benefit from desperate couples and use the allure of bodily autonomy to turn a profit.

Jeff (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and Serena (Ritu Arya) are trying IVF for the third time at the titular clinic, (which has glowing testimonials), while investment banker Bridget (Laura Howard), who has had her eggs frozen in the same clinic, is looking to make the deal of her career, with her mind fixed on floating Genesis Inc. on the stock market. And then there is gay music teacher Miles, an old college friend of Bridget’s, and Sharon (Clare Perkins), a domestic-abuse sufferer on Jeff’s rounds as a social worker… Kennedy’s script spreads itself too thin across too many characters to really leave a mark. More time spent on a smaller cast would have resulted in greater depth and nuance. Each actor plays at least two characters, neither of which stand out. Harry Enfield is disappointing as the dithering head of Genesis, Dr Marshall. Only until he steps on stage as Karl Marx (and later God) do we realise, this is just Harry Enfield doing impressions.

Genesis Inc at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Of course, there are serious issues and uncomfortable truths here underneath the strained jokes and misjudged dream sequences. The play ponders the idea of sperm as a commodity in the future, as Bridget suggests to Miles at one point. Have we a right to human reproduction? Have we the right to defy biology, rejecting the idea of a child as a natural (or God-given) gift? Capitalism getting its dirty hands on our reproductive potential is a grim and interesting prospect to explore. In one of the play’s few arresting scenes, wherein Serena and Jeff sit distraught after being told she is not pregnant again, secretary Kiki hovers in the background, waiting to charge them for the company’s services. Profiting in the face of trauma is a disturbing truth alive and well today, for certain, begging the question – does this corporation really want to help us reproduce, giving the delight of parenthood? Or is it just making money from our reproductive limitations? Nevertheless, these are arguments we’ve heard before.

The set is sprawling and unnecessary. With all this space to use, there is something undeniably counter-productive about the set up. In the first few scenes the actors’ voices sound flat and forced; I don’t envy the challenge of having to animate such a nonsensical and uninviting setting. Designer Jess Curtis gives us an assortment of locations: CEO offices, bedrooms, a clinic reception, kitchens, all on various levels that become tiresome to follow; they never overlap or communicate coherently. Arthur Darvill, doing his best as the warm and nervous Miles, is continually relegated to an upper platform during his scenes. As one of the more sympathetic characters in the show, it’s frustrating to have him so far away.

Genesis Inc at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Manuel Harlan

In April 2018, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs premiered Ella Road’s The Phlebotomist, a play that similarly dealt with issues of meddling with human biology. And while it wasn’t a comedy, it was certainly funnier, and conjured a powerful emotional connection through a small cast and tighter narrative. In Genesis Inc. director Laurie Sansom would benefit from these assets, allowing him to make the most of Kennedy’s satirical wit, for which she evidently has a good eye. But here, sadly, it is a missed opportunity.

 

★★☆☆☆

Genesis Inc. runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 28 July. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website here.