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[The following contains mild spoilers.]

Jo Stokes‘ new play “In Confidence” is presently playing early afternoons at the Spaces on North Bridge, but whether this is on at the wrong time, or in the wrong venue, or it is merely poorly marketed, this play could cope with bigger audiences. Demi (Hollie McGovern) is pregnant, but she will not tell her boyfriend and family that her baby is going to be born with a spine so damaged that paralysis is guaranteed. Demi’s story is “in confidence” only with the audience, and she is steadily tortured by her family’s excited preparations for the birth.

Both writing and cast are perfect, and although this is ultimately kitchen-sink, soap-opera stuff, with those Cockney accents faintly echoing Albert Square, “In Confidence” is a work of impressive control and ambition. Hollie McGovern’s Demi is both fierce and vulnerable, and a figure of enormous loneliness. She also looks convincingly pregnant, leading one to vaguely wonder whether McGovern has conceived a child just for this performance. This play is superficially a work of profound tastelessness, in defining a physically disabled child as a curse from above, but one should not be necessarily drawn into viewing the baby from Demi’s wonky perspective. To her, the baby grows ever more terrifying a prospect and in keeping with the horror theme, its tell-tale heart pounds like that of an ogre during the scene changes.

Demi is terrified that her boyfriend (Frederick Szkoda) will abandon her if she does not give him a perfect baby girl, she fears that the pregnancy will destroy her beauty, and yet she starves herself to try and kill the baby. Perhaps she knows her boyfriend better than we do – he seems completely devoted to her and he speaks no evil, as well as hearing and seeing none. Yet Demi is convinced that her boyfriend wants to give the baby “his love, not his life.” She can imagine the pair of them being completely consumed by the demands of their disabled child. In this respect, she may have been frightened out of her senses by her doctor (Danny Kennedy), who remains intent upon imposing a regime of therapeutic crisis management on to her pregnancy.

This may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but Danny Kennedy and Clare Ashton keep the general morale high as Demi’s cranky, quarrelsome parents. There is also an amusing moment when the perplexed boyfriend wonders whether his heavily-pregnant partner is carrying on with another man. We may suspect that Demi’s loved ones have the strength and good humour to carry her through any crisis, but the mystery at the heart of the play is whether they can be ultimately trusted. It is a Catch22 that if they can, then our doubts about Demi’s character are affirmed and this equally does not bode well for the baby’s future. As Demi clings to our confidence, the chances of a happy ending seem perilously remote.

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