As a society, we seldom talk about IVF openly. Despite it being around for 40 years now, there are still many misconceptions surrounding it. Our lack of knowledge often leads to disapproval and judgement towards those who choose to try this treatment. Performer Sarah Bebe Holmes and her friend, Carol, experienced all of this 10 years ago. Struggling to conceive, Carol asked Sarah to donate her eggs. Paper Doll Militia’s Egg tells their story in a magnificent piece of theatre that combines music, aerial artistry and other visual mediums.
Egg is beautiful and bold from start to finish, with Holmes captivating her audience from the moment they walk into the Demonstration Room. Suspended in a clear, water-filled sac, the not-yet born Holmes is entracing, her serenity and gentle stirring within the confined space a sight to behold.
The play charts the journey Holmes and Carol shared together all those years ago, portraying both their perspectives throughout the process. However, Holmes is not interested in merely depicting the emotional side to their experiences. Sparing no details, Egg also offers a lesson in the history and science behind egg donation and IVF treatment through an eclectic array of visual mediums. It highlights the invasive nature of the medical screening process, and in Holmes’s case how she was made to feel like an “inadequate” choice. The play also raises questions about what it means to be a mother and a family, and also how narrow-minded people can be when it comes to fertility issues.
Fans of the (amazing) TV show Orphan Black will see a Tatiana Maslany-like quality in Holmes’ acting and distinct characterisation of herself, Carol and the IVF doctor. Her quirky personality shines through in the IVF doctor’s shrill voice and fluttering eyelids, whereas Carol’s maturity and pure love for Sarah make her a compelling character to watch.
Every element of Egg has been masterfully crafted by Holmes, aided by her co-director, Rob Jones and musician, Balázs Hermann. Hermann’s live performances on the electric guitar and double bass are perfectly in tune with the mood of each scene – starting off with the heartbeat of the not-yet born Holmes in her hanging amniotic sac. Costumes are limited but effective, and the presence of clear plastic everywhere seems to reflect both the artificial nature of IVF and yet the utter transparency Carol and Sarah have with each other and the audience.
As for the aerial element of the performance, Holmes’ skills are phenomenal. The way she commands her body and the plastic sheeting or tubes that allow her to suspend and contort herself in the air is mesmerising. She also finds a way to convey her past self’s emotional and physiological state in the air – going from the carefree, spunky Sarah who agrees to donate her eggs, to the “twitchy” Sarah who is struggling with the effects of the hormone treatments, and finally to her anesthetised self as the eggs were extracted from her grapefruit-sized ovaries.
In sharing her story, Holmes has created an unforgettable experience for those who are lucky enough to see this stunning show. It is amazing to see what can be produced from just one, single egg.