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In The Gut
The Blue Elephant Theatre
14th June 2016


Siobhan McKiernan and Margot Courtemanche as Judith Jerry and Marie Chantal du Pape

Photography © Charlene Segeral

Well, I never wanted to have a bun in the oven anyway. However, if you've ever considered having kids, In The Gut may make you think twice. Exuberant hosts Judith Jerry (Siobhan McKiernan) and Marie Chantal du Pape (Margot Courtemanche) take the traditional baking metaphor and really run with it, guiding their audience through a series of varied and increasingly absurd sketches about everything that happens from conception through to childbirth, including some very disturbing kneading. Thanks to this hour-long production, you will never look at dough in the same way again, you have been warned...

Whether proud parent, reluctant parent, childless by circumstance or childfree by choice, everyone past a certain age has given some thought to their childrearing future. It's a quick and easy conversation for some to have with themselves, a much harder one for others. In The Gut doesn't take a view on what is normal or best, rather explores the idea of coming to terms with whatever the future does hold. Some subjects are naturally hard to discuss, no matter how supportive the environment, but comedy is used here to create a safe distance between the words being said and the deeper more emotional meaning behind them. Seemingly pointless games and thinly veiled analogies are used to great effect.

References to Marie's apparent infertility and Judith's lack of maternal desire are casually dropped in, with director Alice Robinson never letting the tone get too heavy. Judith's throwaway references to getting a dog instead of a baby are never examined any further, and Marie's mini-beakdown about the physical difficulties she faces in carrying a child to term is cut short by an unsympathetic Judith. Humour is used repeatedly to mask the real issues affecting the protagonists. Although this is a modern piece of clowning, effectively we're still laughing at people slipping on banana skins and hurting themselves.

Rather than red noses and white face paint, McKiernan and Courtemanche don bright and cheery garb that conjures up the impression of part-housewife, part-midwife and well, part-crazy 1990s gameshow. With lurid floral dresses and aprons, bold eyeshadow, red lippy and exaggerated eyeliner, they exude a real sense of playfulness and positivity. In the first five seconds of looking at the two players, the production establishes itself as a a light-hearted comedy. Nicola Ralph's set is also a lot of fun, with a red curtain that is used in creative and yet (with the benefit of hindsight) inevitable ways in which I have never seen a red curtain used before.

Sometimes the sound cues are slightly off and the performers' accents do wander, but McKiernan and Courtemanche are always totally committed to their roles, delivering their lines with such conviction and enthusiasm that you ignore any minor technical slips. Their style of grotesque, interactive clowning may not be to everyone's tastes, however it's clear this show is a labour of love and their delivery is good. Some of the jokes drag on a bit longer than they need though, with the energy sometimes lacking as a result. It's here that Robinson needs to be firmer, ensuring that there are no lulls.

Whilst there's a sense of organised chaos to In The Gut, it could do with a stronger narrative arc and tighter direction. Nonetheless, it's a visceral, silly and downright bizarre piece of entertainment which manages to explore serious topics without being serious.

In The Gut opened on 14th June and runs until 18th June 2016 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)

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