The Waiting Room is a new Australian play by Kylie Trounson about the joys and struggles of IVF treatment and her family’s very intimate involvement in the birth of the program in this country.
The playwright’s father is Alan Trounson, PhD, the noted biologist who introduced the concept of using fertility drugs to induce multiple ova and the idea of freezing embryos for future use in in-vitro fertilisation procedures. Along with gynaecologist Dr Carl Wood, Trounson was responsible for the first successful IVF birth in Australia in 1980. As his daughter, Kylie Trounson was exposed from a very young age to all the fascinating machinations of the difficult early years before this first success.
Taking an unusual approach to storytelling, the author puts herself at the centre of the play, narrating the story, playing herself and other characters, including reflections on her youth, and sharing her current feelings and emotions towards the complications of conception and bringing new life into the world.
With IVF treatment a fairly common procedure for parents today – whether due to difficulties in conceiving naturally, or to help same sex couples have children – it’s easy to forget that in the early 80s IVF was not only a scientific wonder, but a controversial program considered to be ‘playing God’ by some. As a commercial medical procedure, it still remains an expensive process to turn to for those who have difficulty in getting pregnant. As recently as the 1970s the only other option was for parents to adopt – an option that is equally problematic and continues to be so today.
The playwright shines a light on the subject by creating a fictional couple, Zoe and Raf (Belinda McClory and Brett Cousins) who as characters, skip back and forth in time between today and those early years of IVF, demonstrating the differences and similarities between the times. Both Cousins and McClory give heart-wrenchingly beautiful performances, embodying the truth of the emotions couples can go through when all that they want to do is have a child, but that reality eludes them.
As Kylie Trounson, Sophie Ross gives a performance grounded in warmth and empathy. The need for the playwright to make herself a part of the story is unclear for most part until it offers the purpose of comparing the development of a script to the development of a new life or a pioneering new medical technique. A potentially glib association, however Ross and Director Naomi Edwards navigate this comparison with a light and friendly touch.
The script is clearly a love letter from the playwright to her parents, with both characters in the play being held up in high regard. The character of Zoe even says to the on-stage version of the author’s mother (played by Kate Atkinson) “you’re a wonderful mum” at one point, while almost the entire body of the rest of the play is dedicated to her father’s indisputable genius. The character of Alan Trounson, (played by Greg Stone) is written as a humble and gentle figure, who is perhaps too dedicated to his work to keep his marriage together, but through the loving lens of his daughter’s view, that is altogether understandable.
Certainly, the writer knows how to break up the intensity of the subject matter with comedy. From very witty observations through to wacky scenes involving Aristotle, Eros and Paracelsus, there is plenty of comic relief.
While Kylie Trounson has clearly spent a lot of time researching the objective facts about the history of the IVF program in our country, the development of this story is absolutely weighed down by a subjectively biased viewpoint. Nevertheless, this take on the situation is a somewhat comforting one. The script does not shy away from showing that in-vitro fertilisation isn’t a magic solution for childless couples, yet it is still full of immense hope. Anyone who has personal experience with IVF will find this production very moving.