Laura McGrady presents her debut play, Baby Box, as part of the Who Runs The World festival at the King's Head Theatre. Daniel Perks finds out if he's won the lottery, bonus ball and all.

These girls are white and British, they’ve won nature’s lottery. They almost score the jackpot, but no penis. It’s a tiny hiccup in an otherwise perfect start to existence – all the wheels are in motion for that picturesque life. Loving family, healthy childhood, aesthetically desirable husband and two angelic children – a boy and a girl, for balance. In delivering this irrefutable opening monologue, Chloe (Sarah Cullum), the younger sister, has a rhythm to her prose that oozes confidence. Laura McGrady’s writing instantly reminds us that we are the privileged, so life will be good. Except, with a faulty Baby Box, it inevitably doesn’t turn out that way.

McGrady’s script is intricate in its depiction of naivety and discovery, a narrative that fluidly winds its way through these siblings’ linear shared timeline. She subtly raises topics that we constantly grapple with as we ‘grow up’ – the loss of childlike innocence, the confusion of self-identity, the candid description of firsts. Period; sexual encounter; health scare – none are shied away from, yet each is approached with sensitivity and foresight. For her debut as a playwright, McGrady’s writing feels mature, successfully layering concept upon concept to maximise impact throughout the show.

In playing the part of sister Jamie, McGrady is outshone in her performance by Cullum. That’s not to say she isn’t a competent actor, playing the elder with a balance of awkward comedy and vulnerable pathos. It’s simply that Baby Box is Chloe’s story, a depiction of her growing up in agonising pain that is attributed to everything from heavy menstruation, to the ‘all in your head’ mentality, to the accusation that she must be faking. There is no doubt for the audience that this pain is real – when Cullum writhes and screams, bites her lips during sex and passes out with exhaustion, she can’t fail to convince us of her agony.

Cullum is given a gift of a part in McGrady’s creation, further reinforced by Helena Jackson’s clear and concise direction. There is no doubt as to the vision in Baby Box, a series of sibling interactions that are framed by monologues and phone conversations to stave off any monotony. Jackson successfully allows the actors to play their truth; she paints scenes with a variety of tones and intentions, all of which are delivered with purpose and poignancy. Yet while these decisions, this structure, serve to support the central performance, it is Cullum that makes it come alive with expertly judged pace and power.

Baby Box is a linear piece of work, one that may generate further impact if it better distorts the timeline, or holds some surprise detail back until the audience are at their most vulnerable. Because there certainly are pin-drop moments, ones that catch us off-guard and take our breath away. The strength of this piece is in the inner workings of its creative team, three individuals so in sync that the overarching production presents itself with assurance and identity – it’s the kind of connection that you stereotypically expect from siblings. But Baby Box reminds us that such stereotyping sets us up for failure – no one is perfect, no relationship is flawless. Perhaps that’s the most powerful of messages here, the agony of reality.

 

 

★★★★☆

Baby Box runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 6 May 2018 as part of the Who Runs The World festival. For further information, please visit the venue website.