Park Theatre – until 17 February. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Jennifer Maisel’s There or Here takes the idea of US outsourcing to India to the extreme with this story about a US couple outsourcing their pregnancy.
This bittersweet comedy follows Robyn (Lucy Fenton) and Ajay (Chris Nayak) as they travel to an Indian clinic to meet their surrogate. Robyn had her eggs frozen when she discovered she had cancer. The idea of an Indian surrogate appeals to the couple as a chance for Ajay to reconnect with the country of his birth, which his parents left for a new life in the US. In the first act, the plot jumps around in time between the actual visit to India, the weeks leading up to it, and Robyn’s time in hospital, as Robyn’s mother, Ellen (Ursula Mohan) struggles to understand her daughter’s decision to risk her life for a child that she may never see. The couple’s doubts and worries are never voiced to each other, instead they ambush faceless voices on the end of the phone. Robyn opening up to a technical support worker, and Ajay to a novice on a phonesex line (both played by Rakhee Thakrar, whose frantic shuffling through a folder full of prompts for the sexworker is comedy gold).
The awkwardness and growing distance between the couple as they both try to keep their plans on track is written beautifully, with the initially annoying pair gradually revealing their fears and feelings. There is great comedy in their different ways of coping, interspersed with heart-breaking moments of misunderstanding and retreat. Whenever things get too heavy, however, the action transfers to Elle and her budding romance with toy boy Raj (Manish Gandhi). Her silent messaging is simply wonderful, transforming this mature woman into a giggling teenager.
When the couple finally meet Neera, their surrogate (Thakrar again) and her husband Rajit (Gandhi), the discomfort is palpable, but doesn’t prepare you for the dramatic twists in the second act. In lesser hands this could have been ridiculously corny, but the writing and strong cast ensure that the audience never loses sympathy for the characters and their plight.
Vik Sivalingam directs with great skill, moving the action along at pace and making the most of the intertwined plots with characters on the phone on different continents suddenly making eye contact at pivotal moments to wonderful effect.
A clever, taut and emotional play that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, There or Here is a rare treat.