The game is an appropriate choice in terms of content and form. The couple – named W and M – consider the ethics, emotions and economics of having a child, and the personal and planetary consequences. Their arguments resonate during the lockdown, which has led to research-backed baby boom predictions suggesting that couples are delaying parenting due to pandemic-induced anxiety and recession. The climate emergency weighs most heavily on the Macmillan couple. In a room full of fun exchanges, one of the best is Foy’s horrified estimate of a child’s carbon footprint: “10,000 tonnes of CO2. It’s the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I would give birth to the Eiffel Tower. ”
Warchus, an incisive film and theater director, presents the story on a split screen. Smith and Foy occupy the same scene but rarely the same move. It is discordant at first, but highlights Macmillan’s interest in what is shared and what remains separate in the coupledom. It also highlights the lines on distance and disconnection. When M has trouble understanding what W is saying, she wryly observes, “You dab” – a remark that makes Zoom laugh more. Sometimes Macmillan’s satire about their excessive thinking threatens to make the couple emotionally distant from the audience as well.
Some split screen compositions work better than others: the couple sit back to back, their partially seen bodies are aligned to form a whole and, with more success, the cameras zoom out to make tiny figures contemplating their positive, fragile pregnancy test on the brink of an unknown future. It is an exploratory use of new media and a refreshing contrast to the flow of pedestrian archives from stage productions. Smith and Foy will give several performances, rather than filming only one, so the initiative preserves the idea that each room a room takes on different colors. But by replicating the capacity of 1,000 spectators at the Old Vic, online broadcasting is exhausted when it deserves a wider audience.
Foy and Smith are superb like the couple whose comfortable ease disguises a lack of empathy. Smith is the languid musician who looks puzzled after raising the issue of the baby on a trip to Ikea. Foy is the doctoral student planning a whirlwind of vomit, birthday parties and Beatrix Potter. It rewinds frantically through its ancestors and advances rapidly until the child leaves the house and hates them.
The play, aided by Macmillan’s propulsive dialogue, similarly jumps into the couple’s relationship with conversations that span days and years. We see a familiar pregnancy inventory – peeing on a stick, scans, first awareness of a bump – and the couple’s simulation questions are still ticking. Macmillan captures the collision of racing thoughts about the future and the hyper-awareness of the present moment that you are living on the path of parenthood. He seriously poses, amid bourgeois satire, the question that ends his play on climate change, 2071: “What kind of future do we want to create?” “