By Rose McKean
Following a hugely successful run at The Kings Head Theatre in May last year, Laura McGrady and Sleepless Theatre brought Baby Box to the Studio at York Theatre Royal last night; a vibrant opening to the range of fantastic productions presented by TakeOver Festival this week.
Laura McGrady’s Baby Box presents the intricately intertwined narrative of two sisters: Chloe (Sarah Cullum) and Jamie (Laura McGrady), tracing their lives through a number of formative moments: from first periods and first sex, to hospital visits and weddings, and beyond. McGrady’s script forms a relentlessly truthful and unflinchingly honest account of female pain, as Chloe struggles with the oft-undiagnosed condition: Endometriosis. Related through comical, heart-warming dialogue, and delicately balanced monologues, McGrady sensitively and insightfully paints a vivid account of both the pains and joys of female experiences, as they shift and change over time.
At its core, Baby Box is as much about sisterhood as it is about womanhood. The relationship between Chloe and Jamie forms the beating heart of this production, and the almost gravitational pull between them is immediately palpable. As a sister myself, their shared story brought me close to tears a number of times. The representation of this relationship demonstrated a remarkable sense of maturity on McGrady’s part, despite this being her debut as a writer. Familiar tropes of the ‘coming of age’ narrative were often evoked, whether the loss of childhood innocence, or the struggle to find one’s identity, however these were treated with an authenticity that prevented the play from descending too far into tired stereotypes.
Cullum and McGrady both gave strong performances. McGrady delivered Jamie’s buoyant charisma and witty quips with perfect comedic timing, despite a few line-fumbles, and her performance gained depth and sincerity as Jamie matured. Cullum also gave a deeply committed and faithful performance, rendering the most painful moments of Chloe’s condition with admirable force. For a play so invested in the way women are doubted mistrusted in their accounts of pain, the brutal honesty of these scenes was essential.
The Set Design also played an integral role in the telling of this story. The playful pinks and yellows reiterated the sense of childhood innocence and naivety, and served as a constant reminder of its loss as the play progressed. The bloodstained bed provided a versatile prop and the use of sanitary towels, used to spell out the lewd message “fuck u” provided an effective moment of visual comedy.
However, it was McGrady’s exceptional writing that really shone in this production. As she led her audiences through the many ups-and-downs of Chloe and Jamie’s gradual maturation, McGrady was able to communicate the essential joy that comes with female sisterhood and friendship.
Baby Box was the perfect way to open this year’s TakeOver Festival, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what McGrady does next.
Find out more about TakeOver here!