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Interview: Lesbian Play 'Breeders' Author Ben Ockrent

Aug 27, 2014

  • Breeders is the new West End play which follows the journey of a lesbian couple searching for a sperm donor to help them have a baby all of their own.  When Andrea (Tamzin Outhwaite) and her wife Caroline (Angela Griffin) decide to ask Andrea’s brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns) to be the donor, no one’s sure if it’s the perfect solution or a recipe for disaster.  Amazingly, his girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) agrees to it and now the four are too close for comfort.
    Playing at the St. James Theatre, book before 31st August to get £10 off your tickets – quote BREEDERS10 when purchasing!
    We spoke to author of the play, Ben Ockrent, about the experience of writing the show and what it’s like to be asked to be a sperm donor for real.
    Tell us a bit about the story of the play, what’s it all about?
    Breeders is about a lesbian couples attempt to have a child that shares both of their genes by impregnating one of them with the sperm of the other one’s brother. The brother and his girlfriend move in with them while they start trying… but things don’t go entirely to plan.
    You’ve said that the idea for Breeders came from a real life experience of being asked to be a sperm donor.  What was it about that experience that inspired the play?
    When I was asked, I was struck by so many conflicting feelings. Some very big and serious ones relating to the responsibility of parenthood and my friendship with the person that asked me.  And some other slightly sillier ones relating to the practicalities of delivering the donations.  As I thought through how it might work, I realised it could be quite a compelling and potentially very funny situation for a play: a group of people intimately connected, running around with small pots of semen.
    How did you approach the lesbian characters in the play?  Were they based on real people you had known?
    Whether subconsciously or otherwise, as a writer you’re always drawing on different elements of people you’ve met.  But the lesbian characters in Breeders are not based directly on anyone I know.  Their sexuality is what creates the context for the play but it’s not necessarily what defines them.  They’re human beings who want to start a family.  That was my primary focus in approaching them.

    Photo credit: Anton Belmonte

    Has writing the play influenced your decision on whether or not you would be a sperm donor for your friend?
    It’s certainly enhanced my appreciation for how complicated it can be for gay couples to start families.  But also, for me personally, how complicated it might be to help someone else have a baby without remaining involved in the parenting of it.  Either way, for a play that’s essentially about how hard it can be, it’s certainly not put me off the idea.
    You’ve previously written for Waterloo Road and Youngers, very different content and characters from Breeders – how did you find writing a play versus writing for TV?  How do you get into writing for such different worlds?
    Writing for the stage is a lot freer.  In narrative terms, you’re not writing one episode to fit in with a bunch of others so, to some extent, your story can go wherever you want it to.  And on a production level, unlike TV, it doesnt have to cost the earth if you decide to set your scene in eighteenth century Paris.  The process also allows more room to workshop and rehearse, so you can explore the material ahead of pinning it down.  But you’re writing for a smaller audience.  With both Waterloo Road and Youngers, there was something thrilling about knowing that you were simultaneously entertaining people from all over the country; people who might not want or be able to go to the theatre.  Ultimately, though, whatever medium youre working in, as a writer youre just telling stories.  And the same disciplines and passions go into writing both plays and TV.
    What’s the biggest thing you’d like audiences to take away from seeing Breeders?
    That no family is normal. 

    Breeders opens on 3rd September at St. James’ Theatre.  Book before August 31st to get £10 off ticket prices – quote BREEDERS10 when purchasing.

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