Richard Elis: Plastic Unicorns and Parenting

My character Chris in 2023 starts his journey through the play feeling, in his words 'broody as hell'. This is a feeling I strongly connect to. Actually, massively connect to. I am lucky enough to be a dad to two sparky, fun, infuriating at times, but wondrous girls. I remember the days before them well, just that yearning, that need.

I am a working dad. I'm used to the school run and lunch box morning juggle before I jump in the car and get myself into the headspace needed for rehearsals. Chris is a scientist and he has an amazing aptitude for ‘tunnel vision’ - that ability to just focus and get his thoughts in order. This is disrupted by the arrival of Mary. This of course has a knock-on effect on his relationship with his husband John and then we follow to see whether decisions made almost 20 years ago are going to spin them fully off their axis. Plate spinning is a necessity for any working parent.

Even amidst all the sleep deprivation, the tears over pony tails and incorrect shoes for dance classes, I can catch a glimpse of a baby in a pram and my world ever so briefly stops. I stare and I breathe and I wonder, just for a second 'Should we have another?' Often this moment is broken by a scream of 'Dad! Why can’t I sit on the yellow chair?' Or 'Daddy, I think I want to wear some high heels to the park' and snap - here I am back in my life, my noisy 100 mile-an-hour life.

The rehearsal process for 2023 has been an intensive one. Chris is the link between the two worlds of Mary and John. This has meant I, as an actor, have been jumping quickly between two connected yet separate worlds. My co-performers have been particularly generous with me as I have often spent rehearsals searching for the hook to get thoughts and feelings into my mind, which they have invariably already made the jump to! We have been guided gently and with a lot of humour and laughter through the whole process. I hope that fun and warmth is still there for all to see as the journey begins to performance.

Chris is a man in a happy, solid, loving relationship and he has no idea what he is in for, if his yearning for a child gets met. Yes, he will read books which will mention being tired but he hasn’t yet experienced the utter exhaustion of the four o’clock in the morning 24-hour supermarket queue because they are out of Calpol at home. He thinks he has experienced pain, but he has not yet stood barefoot on a plastic rainbow-coloured unicorn which has inexplicably been left in the middle of his bedroom floor. But what he has done is imagined the face of his child smiling at him. He has imagined this and yet again he has fallen short of what it will bring to him. The smile on your child's face as they look up and the overwhelming love that springs from somewhere deep inside will fill that yearning. How do I know this? Because I still look at a baby and think to myself - ‘It would be great to have another.’