Giving Up Marty (Crescent, VAULT Festival)

Giving Up Marty (Crescent, VAULT Festival, until March 12th)


Think of adoption and your mind may well turn to an emotion-tugging soap opera or a tear-jerking predictable TV reality show.

Writer Karen Bartholomew explores the harsher truths of the subject and its impact on everyone involved in her sharp new play “Giving Up Marty,” which suggests that seeking out long lost families does not always have a happy ending.

The focus is on adoption reunion, the moment when an adopted child meets their birth parents and siblings, but this isn’t a story about a disgruntled teenager wanting to find his “real” family. Instead this drama considers the effects on a stable and happy 18-year-old and his adopted family when his birth mum and sister go looking for him.

To say that Bartholomew, who has personal experience of the issue, writes carefully would be to undermine the uncompromising challenge and complexity at the heart of this rich story. She and director Annie Sutton want us to recognise that in so many cases there are no love and kisses, more likely pain and a sense of not belonging. A likeable and compelling Danny Hetherington is Joel, the well-adjusted young man (originally named Marty) who has been curious about his background but who is secure in who he is and has never shown any great desire to probe his origins. He allows us to see the character crumbling with the thought that he might have been “a mistake” as he faces the heartlessness of bureaucracy and unresolved tension, somehow feeling he doesn’t quite fit.

The plastic chairs are the only items of furniture on the stage, making us think this is an “everyman” tale where too many characters are faceless, while props (most notably a selection of dated case files) hang from pegs on lines to the right and left. Perhaps there is a feeling that people are simply hung up and left out to dry by the pressured system.

While the intentions of Joel’s birth mother and sister seem cold and selfish we also understand the genuine sense of loss they feel for a son/brother they know about but have had no involvement with. Dorothy Lawrence as mum Martha and Natasha Atkinson as sister Melissa give assured performances that highlight the mental stress of family who feel they have the right to know the truth yet recognise the can of worms being opened the minute they begin the hunt for Marty.

Alexis Leighton gives a lovely performance as Kit, the adoring mum who has adopted several children and loves them as her own, while Ugo Nelson’s Femi is a case worker who wants to do the right things, warns of the potential hurdles, yet ultimately can do little more than add the real people to a list of statistics.

This Motormouse production tackles a seldom-addressed real-life issue and is an important way of educating audiences to a far from uncommon plight. But more significantly “Giving Up Marty” gives a voice to a group who are too often misunderstood and unheard and who deserve to be treated more seriously than politics, popular media and society has ever done.

David Guest

Image, Lidia Crisafulli 

A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls