Mine @ Hampstead Theatre, London

cast list
Marion Bailey
Claire Lawrence Moody
Katy Stephens
Lorraine Stanley
Alistair Petrie
Sophie Stone

directed by
Polly Teale
Shared Experience has a strong track record for bringing novels to the stage, having previously tackled, with mixed success, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, A Passage To India and, most recently, War and Peace.

Theirs is a distinctive and rather gyno-centric approach; an oft-recurring device is to have facets of the characters psychological makeup given physical shape on stage. This has led to some striking moments of theatre in the past. In their Eyre the first Mrs Rochester is ever present during the production, writhing in her attic prison, and coming to represent all Janes locked away wildness and passion. But in this new play, written and directed by Polly Teale, such techniques feel heavy-handed and tiresome, devoid of magic.

In Mine an unnamed, childless couple try to adopt a baby girl. They are wealthy and successful and clearly lead a life of considerable comfort while the girls birth mother is a drug-user and prostitute whose daughter has been taken into care while she attempts to rehabilitate herself. But all the money in the world cant prepare them for the reality of raising a child and the arrival of this tiny, helpless person into the couples lives leaves them feeling exposed and unsettled. As she awkwardly cradles her new daughter, the woman also finds herself unable to stop thinking about the babys mother, about the hardship and abuse that has led her to lose custody of her child.

Throughout the production there are dreamlike sequences in which an actress in a floaty white dress appears and scampers round the stage like a little girl, hiding behind furniture and playing with an ornate dollhouse. She represents both the womans desired daughter and her memories of her own childhood. But while this is initially interesting, its hard to get past the fact that this child is being played by an adult, its too big a hurdle, and some of these sequences feel silly as opposed to moving or revealing. Teale also makes use of filmed footage, projected on the opaque glass walls of the couples minimal and modern home, but these shots of a young girl running through corridors, shots of a city at night dont really add much either.

The main problem with the production is that there isnt a single remotely sympathetic character on stage. The woman is joyless and her husband is a domineering, sharp-tempered, one-note sod; you find yourself questioning the social worker who entrusted these two people with a vulnerable infant. The couple are surrounded by a group of clichs of womanhood. Theres the sister with three children of her own who worries she has forgotten how to be anything other than a mother and the housekeeper from some unspecified Eastern European country who advises the woman to show the baby whos boss. None of these people feel real. Even Rose, the childs mother, the character with the most potential to be interesting, is a harshly pony-tailed, tracksuit clad stereotype.

Its such a shame as the play has some valid things to say about the way motherhood can open you up like an exposed wound, how the world suddenly becomes a more threatening, unsettling place when you have this small person to raise and care for and protect. But all this is buried under the clumsy and ugly production. There are some potentially good performances marooned in there too. Katy Stephens does what she can as the woman who has longed for a child for so long that she struggles to handle the reality when her wish is granted. And Lorraine Stephens, as the babys mother, somehow maintains a degree of dignity despite having to perform with her G-string riding up over her trousers as she staggers around stage, cigarette in hand.

But none of this compensates for having to sit through this turgid thing though there is some unintentional humour to be derived from watching the actors cooing over the unnerving, tufty-headed fake baby. Shared Experience has done fine work in the past but their trademark approach feels cumbersome here. The play would have benefited from a lighter touch and less reliance on familiar theatrical tics and devices.

Mine will be at Hampstead Theatre until 25 October and touring throughought November 2008.

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