Kids? No kids? Kids? No kids? How to decide? Some of us don’t exactly decide – while we are chopping and changing our minds daily, we suddenly find ourselves pregnant, as if God or Mother Nature or whoever just threw their hands in the air saying: enough already, I’ve decided for you.
But that’s not going to happen to George or Nir. As a gay male couple, it’s going to have to be a fully conscious decision. Or decisions, because nothing will be easy. Create a mini-George with a surrogate mother who will hand over the baby at birth? Form some sort of idyllic three-way parenting relationship with the mother? Adopt a child from abroad? Adopt from the UK, which will almost certainly mean a child with severe disabilities or learning difficulties, or a child that comes with a terrible history of abuse or neglect? All of those possibilities bring with them a whole string of ethical conundrums.
Marrying ‘gender-bending musical cabaret and verbatim theatre’, No Kids is a feisty, funny, moving, thought-provoking exploration of that decision-making process. In the making of the show, Ad Infinitum’s two co-directors do something they’ve never done before: share the stage, share the writing, and share the directing credit. And they choose to share that process with us – the referencing of the making of the piece within a piece of theatre can sometimes feel awkward, but here it is a fully immersed aspect of the dramaturgy.
‘What if?’ becomes the motif of the show, which playfully and satirically explores all the universal fears that every parent or would-be parent feels. What if he pulls a pan of scalding water over himself? What if he is bullied at school? What if he grows up hating us? What if he becomes a drug-dealer? A murderer? It’s We Need to Talk About Kevin on acid as George and Nir leap around the stage acting out their worst fears. Then, there’s the fears related to their specific circumstances. What if he’s a she? What do we know about vaginas? Wouldn’t a girl need a mother, not two dads? What if he hates us for being gay and bullies us?
The bullying theme returns again and again, in many guises. A two-way riff on how cleverly as parents they will deal with it: they’ll be praised by the teachers and fellow parents at the school! They’ll start a vlog about bullying and how to stop it called Bully4U! They’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize! And in fantasising about a possible future life as parents, they inevitably re-evaluate their own childhoods: Nir, a fake-fur stole around his neck, re-enacting the torture of a daily bus journey to school in his home country, Israel. The evil chant of ‘Suck my cock, faggot’ is the least of it.
Both men also explore their relationships with their fathers. There is common ground: military backgrounds, stern patriarchal attitudes. In one particularly moving scene, George shares the closeness that developed in his father’s dying days (just as Ad Infinitum were making their acclaimed show about bereavement, Translunar Paradise), and the shift in his attitude towards his father when he learnt what a tyrant his grandfather had been, and how his father had been regularly beaten. A reflection on how we break the cycle of violence and oppression handed down from generation to generation is a vital part of any decision about whether to parent a child.
True-life stories are at the heart of this piece, but the show is determinedly untypical of most autobiographical or verbatim theatre. Nir and George’s Lecoq training as physical actors remains at the core of their work, and every line of text is fully embodied. The staging is simple and highly effective – scenography and dramaturgy go hand-in-hand. Two rails of clothes of various sizes in rainbow colours simultaneously suggest all the possible babies that might be born, and the Gay Pride symbolism of the rainbow. A pram is fitted with a speaker so that as it moves around we hear the invisible/imaginary baby’s cries shifting through the space. A table and chairs and colourful cloth become bed or dining table, as needed. The lighting design takes us from bedroom to disco to past lives to imaginary futures. Great writing, great acting, great design – plus, there is dancing. George tears up the dancefloor like the ‘beast of a man’ that he is. Nir reprises the diva he channelled in previous autobiographical work Ballad of the Burning Star.
No Kids is a beautifully constructed piece, exploring important issues thoughtfully and humorously. And It’s a delight to see Nir Paldi and George Mann onstage together. I truly hope the experience hasn’t scarred them for life, and that they consider doing it again!
Featured image (top) by Alex Brenner