Bodies at the Royal Court Theatre, 2017

Evening Standard 12 July 2017


Bodies, theatre review: Challenging study of family fraught over surrogacy

Vivienne Franzmann's new play packs a lot of ideas into 90 minutes, writes Henry Hitching

In the last few years Vivienne Franzmann has emerged as a playwright who engages with awkward social issues — and not usually the most visible ones — in a humane yet cautionary fashion. In Bodies, she turns her attention to donor conception and surrogacy.

Affluent TV producer Clem and her husband Josh desperately want a child. They pay through the nose to secure the services of a Russian egg donor and then use Lakshmi, a poor woman in India, to carry the pregnancy. It’s a decision that opens up complex ethical concerns. They imagine that everything will make sense once they are parents. But as the birth draws near, the process becomes fraught.

The truth about Lakshmi’s circumstances emerges slowly and alarmingly. Closer to home there’s the stark disapproval of Clem’s father David, an ageing and ailing socialist. The scenes between Clem and David are a study in reticence and evasiveness, with Lorna Brown excellent as David’s straight-talking carer Oni. No less finely observed are Clem’s imaginary interactions with the daughter she hopes to have (impressive newcomer Hannah Rae).

Deftly directed by Jude Christian, Franzmann’s play packs a lot of challenging ideas into 90 minutes. It’s performed with sensitivity and conviction. Philip Goldacre brings a caustic gravity to David, Jonathan McGuinness (stepping in at a late stage for the unwell Brian Ferguson) is uncomfortably plausible as entitled Josh, and Justine Mitchell is remarkable as Clem — radiant but also anguished.

Until Aug 12, Royal Court Theatre, (020 7565 5000,

Financial Times

Bodies, Royal Court, London compelling and increasingly distressing

Vivienne Franzmanns play about surrogate parenting explores the ethical pitfalls in a one-click economy

Take care is the lesson that emerges from Vivienne Franzmanns bruising new play in every sense. Franzmann explores the ethical minefield of international surrogacy through a personal story that is compelling and increasingly distressing. Its a tough subject, but she brings a mix of dark humour and compassion to it, expands to consider outsourced care in a fractured and frantic society more generally, and is served by an excellent cast in Jude Christians taut production. Middle-class British couple Clem and Josh have yearned for a baby for years and, as a last resort, are attempting surrogacy through an international agency. A trip to Delhi later, and their wish looks set to come true: a baby daughter is on the way, conceived with eggs from an anonymous Russian donor, to be carried to term by young Indian mother Lakshmi (Salma Hoque). Any moral qualms they might have are put to rest by the agencys assurances that Lakshmi can use the £22,000 fee to send her own small children to school. Clems father, David (Philip Goldacre), vehemently disapproves, however, and asks searching questions about the rights and welfare of Lakshmi and her family. And as the pregnancy proceeds, doubts begin to plague Justine Mitchells fragile, fraught Clem too. They are often voiced by a beautiful, bolshie teenager (Hannah Rae) the longed-for daughter, who haunts the action, watching all the adults involved in her arrival gradually disintegrate under the emotional anguish involved.Meanwhile, Franzmann broadens the consideration of substitutes, bringing in Lakshmis small son (Alexander Molony), who minds his little sister, and the kindly careworker (Lorna Brown) nursing David, who has motor neurone disease. She examines too the exploitation of need. What emerges is a splintered world linked by Skype, agencies and email, neatly represented in Gabriella Slades deliberately bland, compartmentalised set.One of Franzmanns points is how easy it can be for any of us to ignore ethical reservations in a one-click economy. Even so, I wasnt quite convinced that Clem and Josh would get as far as they did without enquiring further. There are also a couple of plot-twists too many and the bird metaphors are pretty clunky. But still, this is a piercing play about the way we live now, and it is ferociously well acted, not least by Jonathan McGuinness (Josh), who ironically for a drama about stand-ins and surrogacy stepped in at the last moment to cover an ill colleague.

What's on Stage


Review: Bodies (Royal Court)


Bruntwood prize-winner Vivienne Franzmann updates the 'barren woman' trope for the 21st century with this new work exploring the hidden costs of surrogacy

Emily Jupp • London, Off-West End • 12 Jul 2017

WOS Rating: 4*

It can appear lazy for a writer to pin the madness of any female character, in film or on stage, on the character's inability to conceive, so it's testament to the skill of playwright Vivienne Franzmann (Clean Break, Royal Court), that this age-old trope of the barren woman is successfully given a gripping twist in bodies.

The play opens with Clem (Justine Mitchelle) chatting about kale chips with her articulate pre-teen daughter (played by a precocious Hannah Rae) in Gabriella Slade's simple Scandinavian style living room set (IKEA, methinks), with sliding glass doors that act as both scene dividers and a physical representation of the compartmentalisation of Clem's mind.

But as banter between mother and daughter transcends into metaphor, we soon discover the daughter is in fact a projection of Clem's hopes and fears for her unborn child, who is growing in the womb of a woman in India, and made possible by the eggs of a woman from Russia, both thousands of miles away.

Clem's husband Josh was played on the night by Jonathan McGuinness, who had heroically stepped in to replace Brian Ferguson only the day before. Despite performing with script in hand, he conveyed an endearing chemistry with Mitchell that brought a much-needed lightness to the action.

While their relationship is rock solid, Clem's relationship with her dad, David (Philip Goldacre), who has motor neurone disease, is falling apart. She can barely understand his effortful speech and he seems to prefer the company of his new carer Oni (played with great comic timing by Lorna Brown) to that of his own daughter.

The scenes between the father and Clem are intricately woven and Jude Christian's direction builds tension with subtle layers, until you suddenly realise you've been chewing your nails off all along. These moments speak to the sometimes complicated need for love between parent and child, and the chasms that can come when neither understands the other's choices.

As the layers of lies Clem has told herself to morally justify this transaction are peeled back, we see increasingly more of the surrogate, Lakshmi (played with fragility and fierceness in turns by Salma Hoque) a young woman whose story is not as rosy as the surrogate agency might have led Clem and Josh to believe.

An engrossing allegory for the modern age, where we consume things at the click of a button, this new work forces a consideration of what happens when we want something so badly that we try to pretend there are no consequences.

bodies runs at the Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, until 12 August

The Arts Desk

Bodies, Royal Court review – pregnant with meaning

New drama about surrogacy is rich in metaphor and fraught with conflict

by Aleks Sierz

Surrogacy is an emotionally fraught subject. The arrangement by which one woman gives birth to anothers baby challenges traditional notions of motherhood, and pitches the anguish of the woman who cant have children herself against the agony of another woman who gives up her child. Vivienne Franzmanns aptly titled Bodies at the Royal Court explores what happens when Clem, a British television producer, and her husband Josh use a Russian womans egg (fertilised by his sperm) and implant it in the womb of an Indian woman. No prizes for guessing that this is a tale of torment.

Although Clem and Josh occupy a highly privileged social position, which allows them to spend some £22,000 to pay Lakshmi to carry their child, they are not without their own misfortunes. For a start, the baby has no genetic connection to Clem, its new mother, and she has other problems in the shape of her father, David, an old socialist in his 70s who is suffering from motor neurone disease. His new carer, Oni, is soon closer to him than his own daughter and conflicts between them arise when he makes a political criticism of Clems use of money to buy herself a child.

Their exchanges are lightly humorous and thoroughly middle-class

But the most daring gesture of a play that brims with powerful emotions and interesting ideas is Franzmanns decision to create fantasy sequences in which Clem talks to the perfect daughter that she imagines she will soon have. Sourcing the egg from Russia means that the couple have chosen a tall blonde girl with no genetic connection to the woman who has carried her for nine months. In fact, only gradually is Lakshmis situation, her lack of legal rights and her terrible pain, revealed. As usual, this kind of financial transaction seems to be dehumanising, in a very human way, to everybody concerned. There are no winners.

Except perhaps the fantasy figure of Clems daughter, whose physical perfection is shown at the age of 16 and whose intelligence and charm are a compelling projection of her mothers dreams and wishes. Their exchanges, one of which begins the play with a discussion about kale crisps, are lightly humorous and thoroughly middle-class. But even these develop rapidly into inevitable conflict: as Clem rightly perceives, how and when do you explain to a surrogates child exactly where they come from (genetically) and how does that affect them (emotionally)? What will they think of the woman they call mum, and of the woman who bore them?

But although Franzmann vividly portrays the desperation and distress of Clems nine years of trying for a child, as well as Joshs desire to be a father (and Davids firm disapproval of the whole process), there is something very conservative in her picture of Clems feelings. After all, there are plenty of women who do not define themselves by their ability to conceive children, and who dont go to pieces every time they see another womans babies. Likewise, the story covers very similar ground to that of Satinder Chohans equally compelling play, Made in India.

Still, Jude Christians production radiates empathy and explores all the angles of this surrogacy. Davids love of aviary birds, and Clems job as a producer of medical documentaries, provides a series of powerful metaphors, and these are conveyed economically and strongly. Designer Gabriella Slades muted beige and pine set suggests all the comforts of upper-middle-class domesticity, and the cast is uniformly excellent. Justine Mitchells Clem travels from amusing day-dreaming to confrontation with the realities of neo-colonial exploitation. On press night, Jonathan McGuinness gamely took the role of Josh at short notice due to another actors illness. He is great, and so are Philip Goldacre (David), Lorna Brown (Oni), Salma Hoque (Lakshmi) and Hannah Rae (Daughter). Bodies is a treat for mind and emotions alike.

Bodies at the Royal Court until 12 August

The Independent Paul Taylor 12 July 17 


Bodies, Royal Court, London, review: Vivienne Franzmann's play about surrogacy is immensely powerful 4* 


Although fiercely perceptive, the play is too sensitive to settle into a root-and-branch indictment of fertility tourism 


Surrogacy – and its human cost – is Vivienne Franzmann’s subject in this immensely powerful and eloquently constructed play. Her focus is on the fallout from what happens when a British couple – TV producer Clem and her husband Josh – seek a solution to the protracted agony of their childlessness by using a Russian woman’s egg (fertilised by Josh’s sperm) and implanting it in the womb of Lakshmi (Salma Hoque), a young Indian woman. “We should have brought a gift,” says Clem, leafing through her Hindi phrase book, as they wait in a Delhi clinic for the initial procedures. She's thinking of a Union Jack T-shirt or a money box that looks like a double-decker bus. “We've brought a gift,” counters Josh. “It's called £22,000”.


The play is too sensitive to everybody's pain to settle into a root-and-branch indictment of fertility tourism. It’s at once fiercely perceptive about what the materially fortunate are prepared to overlook in pursuit of their happiness and not uncritically compassionate towards Clem and her predicament. Justine Mitchell’s performance brilliantly captures the grief-stricken, end-of-the-tether aspects of the woman, her flat-footedness as she tries to do right by everyone, and the terrible inner doubts about the project that she’s increasingly unable to suppress. 


We see how she’s not nearly as good at managing things as she'd like to think. Her father David (Philip Goldacre) suffers from motor neurone disease and it’s awkwardly clear that, after just a few sessions, his new carer Oni (excellently shrewd and direct Lorna Brown) has an easier, closer relationship to him. His old socialist objections to commercial surrogacy, conveyed with effortful vehemence, cause an agonising rift. Clem’s need to compartmentalise is reflected by Gabrielle Slade's blond-wood and beige design with its glass doors that are pulled open and shut in order to seal off the smaller room at the back. But these attempts to impose order and silence are futile.   


Franzmann's masterstroke is the inclusion of fantasy sequences in which Clem talks to the beautiful 16-year-old Daughter (Hannah Rae) whom she envisages will be the perfect product of this experiment. In Jude Christian’s beautifully pitched production, these come across as an unsettling mix of unreal, wobbly wish-fulfilment and the voice of Clem's conscience and deepest fears. For the wonder-girl turns out to be a graphically articulate witness for the prosecution. It's as if she absorbed all of the Indian woman's experiences while she's was being carried, and she baits Clem with the terrible facts of which she chose to be ignorant – Lakshmi's lack of legal rights, the poverty and widowhood that forced her to leave her own children by themselves – with harrowing results. 


Early on, there's an awkward scene in which the parents-to-be, back in England, keep overjoyed tabs on the progress of the pregnancy through Skype. Lakshmi and her bump pose for inspection as the doctor reassures them of how well she is responding to the “supportive environment” where she and the other surrogates will be looked after for the nine months. It brings home vividly the queasy mix of abrupt, uncertain intimacy and dehumanising distance in this long-range culture-clashing bond. Later, there are episodes and stage pictures that range from the surreal (Lakshmi, in a weird substitution, slapping buttercup yellow paint over the English nursery wall) to the unbearably distressing. 


Valiantly stepping into the role at very short notice because of the illness of the other actor, Jonathan McGuinness is wonderfully convincing as Josh, a man so wound up and impatient to end his wife’s distress that he reacts to a change of law in India as though the government’s main aim is to inconvenience him.  


You could forget, watching Bodies, that not all women define themselves by motherhood, but this is a richly humane and insightful piece. 


Bodies is at the Royal Court till 12 August


The Times


Theatre review: Bodies at the Royal Court Jerwood Upstairs, SW1

This drama about surrogate pregnancy has great dialogue and is beautifully acted, but is hamstrung by metaphor and internalised debate

Dominic Maxwe

July 13 2017, 12:01am, The Times


It’s a sucker punch of an opening. We’re in a middle-class home that the set designer Gabriella Slade has made sure is something to aspire to: cream-coloured and clean-lined. Mum is talking with her teenage daughter, in that bantering space somewhere between childhood and adulthood. I’ve made you kale crisps, Mum says, detailing her use of lemon juice and tarragon. Those aren’t crisps, Daughter retorts, they’re kale.


“When you were little . . .” Mum says, lovingly. “Yeah, all right,” Daughter says, quickly. It’s the sort of disarmingly real moment we don’t see enough of on the stage.

And yet, as Vivienne Franzmann’s play about surrogate pregnancy soon reveals, it’s not real at all. It’s wishful thinking by Mum, aka Clem, a television producer who has spent the past nine years increasingly desperate for the baby her “rotten eggs” won’t let her have. She and her husband, Josh, are spending £22,000 so that Lakshmi, an Indian woman in a Delhi clinic, will carry a baby made from Josh’s sperm and the eggs of a Russian woman. At home in London, Clem’s socialist dad has motor neurone disease. Struggling to speak, looked after by carers, he still hits out at his daughter for what he sees as her exploitative bid for a baby. The happy family of the first scene remain a Sunday supplement dream.


Bodies is so nearly a terrific 90 minutes of theatre. Franzmann writes great naturalistic dialogue and Jude Christian’s production is played beautifully. Justine Mitchell gives a tour de force performance as Clem, smiling and joking and coping and struggling like crazy. We believe in her, in the furious-faced Philip Goldacre as Dad, in Lorna Brown as his outspoken carer, Oni, and in Jonathan McGuinness as Josh, giving full life to lines that, on opening night, he was reading from a script. He stepped into the role with a day’s notice after the original actor, Brian Ferguson, became ill. Bravo.


Where Bodies falls down is in the same trick that makes it so compelling to start with: its use of Daughter (Hannah Rae, excellent) as a device for Clem to explain and question what she is going through. Add to that the spectral, accusatory presence of Salma Hoque’s Lakshmi as the legality and morality of what is happening in Delhi gets iffier and iffier, and some unnecessary use of video imagery and song, and the show starts to mainline on metaphor and internalised debate rather than giving its characters the space they need to fulfil their potential. “It’s about exploitation, power, privilege and capitalism,” Franzmann said in an interview, which is fine in an interview, but the play prods us in the chest with those ideas rather than letting them rise from the story.

Box office: 020 7565 5000, to August 12

Reviews of Showreel


"Your Show Reel is excellent, you have such gravitas" - Carrie Grant (Fame Academy, Pop Idol, One Show, etc)


Michael Savage, Producer, Los Angeles, Ca. (incl Execution, Kill and Talking To Strangers).  9 June 2011


Your work is wonderful and you have great footage


Bob Fraser,  Hollywood writer/director/producer.  Author of “An Actor Works” website , inter alia.  12 May 2011


I liked your site immensely ­and it’s clear that you’re a very skilled actor.  All the clips are spot on.  Your clips are fabulous looking - much better than I generally see on actors’ sites.  Keep up the splendid work …


Deryn Warren,  Director, Los Angeles, Ca. (incl Black Magic Woman and Dead of Night).  12 April 2011


“I think your reel is one of the best I have seen.  You are an amazing actor.  I love that you played games in the first clip.  Each phrase was complete and had perfect images.  I love the way you said "nearly made a difference" and gave such an interesting accent on “nearly”.  I loved the line "judge gave him three years," too.  You have gravitas, humor and are so specific.  It is all as I teach in my book, HOW TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU ( You are wonderful.”


She also said, “I saw his reel. He is an ACTOr. Great variety and compelling. Uses his silences and you believe every second.


Flash Bang:  Action Movie Reviews


The Journey of Alfred Small

Philip Goldacre Shines In Realistic Drama Short Film "The Journey of Alfred Small"

Of special note is Goldacre's performance, which is, simply put, awesome.  He could, and should, win awards for his portrayal as the apparently taciturn but strong and emotional Alfred Small.  He shows such a range and does so effortlessly.  He is this film.  I can't say enough about his performance. 

Acting: 4 / 5.  Goldacre delivers a performance most actors would die for.

Forest City Short Film Reviews 2015


Tomb Raider: Ascension


The cast was excellent across the board. Philip Goldacre as Lord Croft, Laras father (soooo much better than John Voigt).



The end of the credits states that this movie is an independent, non-profit, artistic expression created purely for fun. However on any level, this is a very well made film and is one that Eidos, the creators of Tomb Raider, should consider adopting as a proper Origins of Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider: Ascension is a Hit!  Fan Cinema Today website 22 Sep 2008

  Philip Goldacre is a revelation as Lara's father, Lord Richard Croft.


The Reappearance of Christ in the East End




Sunday Telegraph 7 August 2005


Good enough to give it a go in the West End…Barry, a corduroy wearing cynic.  He smokes roll-ups and complains…The audience…appreciate how very good Philip Goldacre is.  A beautifully timed play.


What’s On In London 10 August 2005


A band of oddball school teachers…Middle aged whisky-tippler Barry who used to be a Buddhist but now worries about his rowdy pupils and failing prostate gland…sparky performance…witty, incisive.


Church Times 19 August 2005


Peter Hamilton's spirited - and spiritually engaging – play… wreaking wonderful black humour from the staff-room clash between the worn-out cynic on one side and the politically correct idealist on the other.  Corduroy-jacketed Barry swigs rum and rolls his own, lamenting his failed flirtation with Buddhism and his general physical decline… The conversations they snatch between lessons are the stuff of quality sitcom, and everyone in the audience recognises, and warms to, these frighteningly familiar anti-heroes, especially Philip Goldacre's down-at-heel Barry… a little masterpiece… this is a big, fascinating script and definitely deserves a term or two in the West End.