SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, 2023
Production Photo courtesy of c21 Theatre
It took my second viewing of Charis McRoberts' Expecting, a c21 Theatre Company production directed by Stephen Kelly, for me to realise that the "expecting" in the title related not only to the play's tale of a couple expecting a baby, but also expectations and how they are re-shaped in accordance with sudden, or not-so-sudden, changes in circumstance. One is never really ready for their firstborn child - how one initially adapts depends on how much one imagines they are likely to gain, or are equally likely to surrender, and how these two mindsets try to find a way to become harmonious with each other, however hard that may be.
Two mindsets which actually amount to four, if not more, in the context of Expecting and its couple, Robbie (Eoghan Lamb) and his d/Deaf partner Shauna (Paula Clarke). Their journey feels concisely traditional and transitional in several ways - the tradition of transition, perhaps, told from the individual and dual perspectives of Robbie and Shauna and offered to us through the uniquely accessible means of subtitling, sign language and low-key but striking projected visuals alongside already impressive performances.
The impending arrival of baby Aisling is immediately appealing to Robbie, but significantly less so to Shauna and her aspirations of exhibiting art in New York City. It's creativity and initiative either redeveloped, from Robbie’s point-of-view, or stunted, from Shauna's point-of-view – a contrasting challenge of learning to emerge, even evolve, from the safe and secure aura which people can't help but create for themselves within a metaphorical cocoon. Said cocoon bookmarks and permeates the whole play, perhaps most tellingly in the visual form of the amniotic fluid that surrounds the yet unborn Aisling during Shauna's pregnancy. In hearing, via a voiceover, an idea of what a child who has not yet arrived in the world might be thinking, we get an ingenious passageway into the train of thought and feeling that can only arise from the ambience of a protective warmth which must be left behind. Not out of choice, but out of development. And when Aisling's actual birth takes its toll on Robbie's finances, Shauna's life and their relationship, the fears inherent in this adjustment period are multiplied both emotionally and physically. I struggle to think of a viewer who won't, in some way, relate to Robbie's and Shauna's sense of no longer being able to plan, and their idea of a meant-to-be-perfect life falling apart when confronted with the fears of losing familiar health, wealth and companionship.
But what's probably most staggering about Expecting is that McRoberts, Kelly and the actors are able to somehow broaden and deepen already affecting and truthful identifiable themes by skilfully exploring both the protective and the stifling nature in the alternative of calm. It's also about how we seem to be driven by having something to worry about, how we may do anything to make that worry disappear, and how losing that worry may present a void with an even worse level of emotional pain after an already draining challenge. Yet the play eloquently and elegantly recognises that said emptiness need not result in a devastatingly overwhelming wave if the right choices are made - in a sense, it appears to be relaying a challenge for Robbie, Shauna, Aisling and the audience to evolve their means of communicating with each other in pursuit of living the best possible life for themselves and their families. Like many exceptional works, Expecting beautifully contrasts the desire for individual attainment and enrichment against the natural reality of familial responsibility and communal legacy, presenting the opportunity for its characters and viewers to fully appreciate and recognise many aspects of comfort and discovery in a short space of time.
Expecting's final show on its current run at the Edinburgh Deaf Festival takes place at Deaf Action, 49 Albany Street, Edinburgh, on Sunday August 20 at 5.30 pm. For more information, click here.