When Meg (Madeleine Magee Carr) and Tim (Riley Nottingham) are unable to conceive a child their relationship takes a U-turn. Meanwhile, another couple, Jen (Lansy Feng) and Bill (Richard Mealey), undergo In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and question if their relationship is enough for a happy life. Both childless couples find themselves meeting in a local park near a lake and strike up a friendship.
This forms the basis of Vanessa Bates play Every Second, first produced in 2004 and now presented by Wit Incorporated under the direction of Emma Drysdale.
Meg, Jen, Bill and Tim in the park - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
Staged in the magnificent Bluestone Church Arts Centre in Footscray, Every Second is a play for every person who has conceived and for every person who has not. The season is on now until Sunday 29 May, with accessible relaxed sessions, a Q&A with the cast and director, and an Auslan interpreted session. Book your tickets here.
Meg (Madeleine Magee Carr) - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
From the outside, Jen and Bill are a loving couple. Jen is a career woman who 'wears the pants' and Bill is a warm and loving partner. They share a dog and the desire to have a family. However, despite numerous attempts, no pregnancy.
Meg and Tim have also been trying to conceive for some time. It has taken such a toll on Meg, that she can no longer work 'with people', and is highly strung most of the time. Tim is spending more hours at work, often arriving late home, and missing Meg's ovulation opportunities. Meg has become so obsessed with conceiving a child, Tim is no longer interested in sex. Meg tries everything to entice him, from sexy lingerie, outdoor sexual experiences, fantasies, and porn - but nothing works. At the same time, she spots a taxi lingering or loitering in their street several nights a week. Tim says Meg is paranoid, but agrees to have a sperm test, whilst they both seek help from a Chinese medicine practitioner.
Bill (Richard Mealey) and Jen (Lansy Feng) - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
Jen and Bill resort to In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and watch the relationship between Meg and Tim become strained. Bill attempts to chat to Tim about the matter, however, Tim feels betrayed by Meg, as he knows she has spoken to Jen who has spoken to Bill about his infertility. Tim feels ashamed, embarrassed, and unable to deal with rejection from his own sperm and his wife.
Meg suspects Tim may be cheating on her with someone from work but has no evidence. She loves Tim and does not want to give up on the relationship. She reaches out to Jen, who has just started IVF, and gives her a gold statue of Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva or Goddess of Compassion. Meg hopes Quan Yin will bless Jen and herself with fertility to conceive.
Meanwhile, Tim works later and later at work, until he does not come home at all. Jen resolves to hit up the nightclubs and get 'knocked-up by an anonymous sperm donor.
Bill and Jen continue with IVF despite the inconvenience. Jen has become a professional at self-injecting hormones and sometimes takes a triple dose.
Jen (Lansy Feng) with Goddess - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
The performance is staged as 'theatre-in-the-round' with the audience seated directly across from each other which allows them to see the whole action and each character from different perspectives.
The clever and flexible set design by Riley Tapp features an open plan with a bedroom at one end, and a park bench at the other. Jen and Tim's bedroom is set in neutral tones indicating their lives are grey until a child brings colour to their world.
This design creates a flexible space which becomes a park, a lake, a beach, a nightclub dancefloor, and a glow-in-the-dark ballet stage. This paired with Jack Wilkinson's lighting design, Gabby Carbon's costume design, Nathan Santamaria's sound design and Sophie Loughran's choreography creates a colourful, eclectic, and fast-paced show - which feels less than 90 minutes. One of my favourite scenes was Swan Lake performed by the characters dressed as glow-in-the-dark sperm which gave much needed comedic relief to the issue of infertility and grief.
A subplot to the main narrative is a story about a woman with a baby in a pram who was left for dead after a hit and run. This story comes up every time the couples are near the lake - which is the scene of the crime. This in conjunction with Meg's sighting of a taxi loitering in their street creates suspense but does not fully resolve by the end of the play. At one stage, Bill accuses Tim of the 'hit-and-run' but it is not clear how this connects with the major narrative.
Wit Incorporated's production of Every Second is both sensitive and funny, paying attention to balancing the experiences of both genders, by using many creative theatrical devices to tackle this common issue.
All performances from the ensemble are strong, convincing, and highly believable.
A word of warning – this is not a 'family show'. Even though Every Second is about creating families - there are spectacular choreographed sex scenes by Jacinta Scadden, which are not for children's eyes. In addition, the show features dancing sperm, aggression, alcohol-induced behaviour and all the darkness which erupts when one's life does not turn out as imagined.