27 March 2018
Kinder K courts controversy but can't hide a shallow streak, says Ava Davies
I heard about Kinder K before I saw it. A few close friends of mine stormed into the campus centre, flushed and furious. There were many angry cigarettes smoked and thrown disdainfully onto the floor. Don’t parallel eugenics to abortion. Just don’t do it. Are you crazy? And so I was immediately riled too. Who is this writer, this Man who has written a play demonising women, our choices, our bodies?
So then I saw it. And I don’t think it’s about abortion, exactly. My anger was directed more towards the fact that the writer (not a student, this is a published play – this would be A Lot more controversial if it were student written), Kristofer Gronskag, seems to be deliberately courting controversy by invoking Nazis and eugenics in such close proximity to a storyline that, if not directly about, does confront the topic of abortion. It feels like it’s baiting its audience without taking responsibility for the issues it is raising.
So the plot. The Plot. What a fucking Mess of a parallel. This Thoroughly Modern Couple (named only through their pronouns – so far, so Simon Stone Yerma – and you Know they’re modern because they talk about All The Sex They Have!) are having a baby, but She wants to go through a highly invasive procedure in order to find out whether or not the foetus is disabled. At the same time, in 1939, a German couple give up their severely disabled son Gerhard (otherwise known as Kinder K) to become one of the first babies murdered through the Nazis’ mercy killings.
It’s surely just common sense to not simplistically plop down a plot about eugenics next to a plot about abortion and genetic engineering and not actively unpick that decision and comparison in the show itself. It comes across as laziness, not on the part of the production but on the part of the writer.
And I can’t help but feeling – without reading the text – that there is this nasty misogynistic streak lurking just below the surface. The beautifully talented and committed cast (Gabriel Akuwudike and Jessica Webber) do their best to paper over weaknesses and shallowness in character, but it peeks out. And look, the production is slick and polished: Jojo Fauchier’s sterile set suggests simultaneously a flatpack IKEA home and a dollhouse, and Camilla Gurtler’s direction flows seamlessly from era to era. But there is this essential shallowness to She in particular that feels…nasty on the part of the writer. There’s a moment, right at the beginning of the play, where she refers to herself in a short, tight dress as looking like a whore and it was just like – I mean really. Really. We’re doing this?
Why even choose this play? It’s an excellent showcase for the actors, who imbue multiple roles with confidence and style, shifting voice, character and physicality within moments. But I struggle to see its necessity. Genetic engineering is an issue that needs to be raised, to be discussed. But there is no sense, really, of what could be done to discuss the topic further. And honestly, comparing it to eugenics cheapens the argument. It’s the type of argument a first-year ethics student makes in their first seminar in an effort to seem Clued Up and Edgy. The production is slick and professionally done, but it can’t disguise the fundamental flaws in the play itself.
Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca