Laura McGrady’s Baby Box starts an important, and long overdue, conversation surrounding endometriosis and the silence veiled around early female sexuality.
Premiering at the King’s Head Theatre as part of a hugely welcomed new season created to champion female writers, ‘Who Runs the World’, Laura McGrady’s Baby Box follows the tumultuous journey of two sisters through adolescence. They struggle to deal with periods, illness, sexuality and everything else ‘that comes with having a vagina’.
We open with Jamie bursting into her sister’s room on Christmas morning, shocked that Chloe hasn’t already torn open her stocking. Her younger sister is worried about the contents of her presents: what happens when she stops getting Barbies and starts getting lipgloss? What happens when she has to start going about the business of being a woman?
It transpires Chloe is right to be worried – as growing up brings with it chronic pain for most of her teenage years and an eventual diagnosis of endometriosis. Despite 1 in 10 women having the condition, it is rarely spoken about and there is still no definite cure. Baby Box is definitely the first play I’ve seen that even mentions it, let alone tries to engage with the emotional fallout that accompanies the condition.
McGrady’s script is refreshingly frank, not skirting around difficult subjects and provideing plenty of space for the two actors to explore the sisters fragile and constantly shifting relationships. But, especially towards the end of the play, things become a little tangential and give way to melodrama. In an effort to provide richness to the plot, it feels as though some elements of story are wedged into gaps and aren’t given the opportunity to be fully explored. Some earlier development of the character of Jamie, for instance, might have made the final act of the play less of a rollercoaster.
Baby Box is at its best when dealing with Chloe’s struggle for a diagnosis; her attempt to carry on living a normal life while coping with chronic pain is acute in its brutality. The most affecting moments come in a physical scene in which Chloe is determined to keep having sex with her boyfriend despite it being unbearably painful, because she doesn’t feel able to talk to him about it and doesn’t realise the pain isn’t normal. The silence veiled around early female sexuality creates an atmosphere of unknowing, of awkwardness, of shame. How could Chloe have known that what she was experiencing were the side effects of endometriosis, if no one is willing to talk about what sex and periods are meant to feel like?
McGrady commented in an interview that she wrote this play because it was the one that she needed to see a year ago and she couldn’t find it anywhere. While the play has its issues, Baby Box is the start of a conversation that is long overdue in the spotlight. I hope that Baby Box and the whole season at the King’s Head serve as a gateway to women telling the stories they can’t find in theatres because – I guarantee – someone is waiting to hear it.