Brenda’s Got a Baby review – pregnancy deadline drama doesn’t quite deliver

I’m all up for surprises, but it takes at least 40 minutes before the crux of this new play by Jessica Hagan is revealed. After a bad breakup with her partner of eight years, and with rising envy of her little sister’s happy relationship with her new boyfriend, Ama (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) realises she wants to become a mother. She is 29 and Business Insider has told her she’s in the prime of her reproductive years. “I want a baby,” she announces, and she wants it to happen before her 30th birthday. Hagan’s story of comparison culture will be recognisable to anyone who has ever wondered if they are on the right path – but why take so long to get there?

By the end of the first half, a digital clock has started to count down the days and minutes until Ama’s deadline. After the interval, it is as if we’ve arrived at a new, time-pressured play – this is where the evening should have started. Finally, there is tension and shape to a script that previously appeared entirely unstructured.

But the problems don’t stop there. There are mannered performances, complete with cartoonish hand gestures. The jigsaw set designed by TK Hay looks bizarre against the action and has the look of a rainbow-painted, adult creche. The characters are thinly drawn and need fuller backstories. Directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, each scene seems strangely detached from the one that has come previously.

Some topical issues are hidden within the frenzy – such as a Black sperm donor shortage and a failing healthcare system – but just as they start to crackle, they are glazed over. Hagan is a skilled playwright – her debut, Queens of Sheba, also produced by Nouveau Riché – was explosive. But this one is suffering from an identity crisis, uncomfortably sandwiched somewhere between serious drama and trying to make us laugh. Perhaps it just needs more time in the oven.