Normal is a beautiful word.
It’s clear that all is not right in Jo and Alex’s marriage – she has become a fitness fanatic who shrinks away from her husband whenever he reaches for her, and he mopes around in his dressing gown complaining that there’s never anything to eat. Jo is a lawyer who’s not taking time off and Alex is a writer who’s been stuck on the same chapter for months. The early scenes of verbal sparring between the pair are powerful and visceral, and you are caught up in their pain. Kirsty Bushell as Jo is particularly good, spitting poisoned barbs at Christopher Harper’s Alex with every breath.
The doll’s house in a corner of the stage is a clue to what has brought Jo and Alex to this desperate point, and there’s a touching, silent scene in which Jo passes out drunk beside it, giving Alex the only opportunity of being intimate with his wife as he lies down next to her and gently places his hand in hers.
Writer Collette Kane movingly explores the parent/child relationship and how different people deal with loss – Jo threw away all of her daughter’s things, but Alex managed to rescue a single sock which he carries around in his pocket, and he periodically sniffs it to bring back memories of her. Jo wishes she were dead – her child was her ‘one true love’ and now she feels ‘like nothing’.
Jo’s method of coping is to meet with Gloria (Michele Austin), a sinister clinic representative whose motives remain inscrutable throughout. Kane cleverly keeps us guessing until the very end about what kind of clinic Gloria works for. At first we think Jo wants to adopt, then that she wants to undergo IVF, and the final revelation that she’s thinking of cloning her dead daughter is a horrifying one. There are some wonderfully dark moments where Gloria refers to potential future babies as ‘product’ and when she asks Jo and Alex whether they would like their potential cloned baby to be a ‘normal’ or ‘enhanced’ version of their deceased daughter.
Alex is initially skeptical of the whole enterprise, rightly baulking at Gloria’s ominous questions and trying in vain to receive answers to his own. When Gloria says that any cloned child of theirs would suffer from the same illness and again die within six years, it’s heartbreaking to hear Jo say that she would relive the pain just to have more time with her child.
However, I did have qualms about the characters’ volte-face in the scene of the clinic interview: by the end, they have completely reversed their positions – Alex thinks they should ask for an ‘enhanced’ baby whereas Jo is suddenly sickened by the whole enterprise. The closing scene of the play, with the couple holding hands at last, Jo wearing Alex’s dressing gown and he about to head out for a run, also felt a little too conveniently symmetrical and as though we were being given something approaching a ‘happy ending’.
The set, designed by Polly Sullivan, is a stark, soulless one, all white and jagged edges with very few props. It echoes Jo and Alex’s cold, distant relationship and also provides an appropriately clinical feel. The music accompanying the scene changes was rather jarring, however.
Director Lisa Spurling has achieved great performances from all three cast members and at just over an hour straight through, I Know How I Feel About Eve packs a punch: by turns heartbreakingly sad, intensely vicious and compellingly creepy, though Kane could have afforded to develop one or two of her ideas with a bit more depth. But, as a portrait of a marriage in crisis and the effects of an intense, crippling grief, it’s powerful.