Alexander Tol, Divergent Theatre, Divergent Theatre’s Ripe, Dystopia, Edinburgh Fringe, Jamal Chong, Jason Plessas, Kate Gwynn, Rashida Amanda, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Spaces on the Mile, Theatre Review, Victoria Sheldon
Divergent Theatre are a youth company from London and their show “Ripe” has just finished its run at the Space on the Mile. The play is written by Vicky Sheldon. It is selling itself on a resemblance to Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been recently adapted for US television. Alas, since I have neither read nor watched these sources, “Ripe” will have to here take their sins as its own.
“Ripe” submits a dystopian scenario in which female refugees in the not-too-distant-future are guaranteed citizenship in exchange for becoming surrogate mothers. Mischa (Kate Gwynn) finds herself selected to bear a child for an important aristocratic couple (Jason Plessas/Sheldon). The Count of Spence, a somewhat hypnotic visual amalgam of Prince William and Jimmy Carr, is convinced that it is his wife who is infertile. He is growing ever more impatient and, since he is a major donor to the surrogacy scheme, his delusions about his sperm count are not only postponing Mischa’s pregnancy but putting the whole clinic in jeopardy. An idealistic doctor (Alexander Tol) therefore resolves to make a sly donation of his own.
Even if “Ripe” has some umbilical attachment to Atwood’s story, this is still an ambitious production, and ambition at the Fringe is always, indiscriminately, virtuous. The play also shows an unusually keen empathy with the aspiration of refugees to settle in the West. There is entertaining acting on display and the results are at times pleasantly sinister.
“Ripe” soon begins to flail around, however, because it is not sure where it really belongs on its own spectrum of comedy and melodrama. A bungled scene in which the toffs comically turn up to the delivery room straight from the ballroom is immediately contradicted by the harrowing sight of Mischa being forced to give up her baby. It is all in all a messy sandwich. Moreover, there is little tension within the drama because the women have no feasible chance of escaping the clinic. Both Mischa and her roommate Rachel (Rashida Amanda) come across as simply gormless when they are fantasising about life after surrogacy. Without citizenship, they can have no rights. They can hardly sue if the clinic’s “contract” with them is broken. Characters who have fought tooth and nail to reach the West would not, I suspect, be so soft as to put their faith in the authorities.