Birth Mourning

“The medical staff all step back and nod, like in a musical “


Katie Erich as Alice and Adam Fenton as Phil (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Two actors with a disability play Alice (Katie Erich) and Phil (Adam Fenton) in Jack Thorne’s play about a couple whose first and only baby is born dead after an ante partum haemorrhage.  Thorne’s play features intimate details of their sexual foreplay as they describe for us what is happening and how they feel. 

It emerges that this is the first time they have attempted sex since the baby died.  The scenes then show us how they first met, their first few dates and how they decided to move in together, get married and conceive the baby. 

Katie Erich is deaf but her speaking voice is as clear as a bell.  In addition, she has such an expressive face, her myriad looks were so interesting to me as she changed countenance.  There are surtitles above the stage on clear black balcony covering.  The only time when I had to choose between looking at the characters’ faces or the surtitles was a sequence at the end when Alice was signing instead of speaking. 

Katie Erich as Alice (Photo: Ellie3 Kurttz)

Adam Fenton has a disability more difficult to describe.  As Phil, he waves his hands about expressively and often hesitates before his whole sentence can emerge.  I would think he might be in the autism spectrum because he has more control than someone with Tourette’s Syndrome.  He is nervous and his body language shows agitation. “He’s basically Tigger!” says Alice.

The director Indiana Lown-Collins, who also has a disability, won the JMK Award, the prize a production of her own, this one.  This play is especially interesting as author Jack Thorne explains in the theatre programme that no other theatre in the UK has been able to “make it work” with a deaf actor playing Alice as he had stipulated.  Here Indiana Lown-Collins certainly makes it work! 

Ica Niemz’s set design is a double bed over a pit of despair with electrical lighting in lines underneath inspired by hospital monitoring graphics.  At first the striped lines look like mattress ticking fabric.  The heartbeat theme is reflected here and on the balcony covering above.  In the hospital the red lighting shows under the bed, 

Katie Erich as Alice and Adam Fenton as Phil (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

This play is distressing as I recalled my mother’s own description of giving birth to a first baby at full term that she knew was no longer alive.  What the playwright does here is to explore the many other ways this loss impacts on Alice and Phil’s marriage and pleasure in sex.  It is not comfortable viewing and it will not be everybody’s choice to see it.  It is meant to share this death at birth experience for many who cannot bring themselves to talk about it. 

But there is also humour in there especially when Alice describes meeting Phil at the Post Office with his exploding parcel of sex goodies for a mate.

As a believable piece with two beautiful performances, the intimacy details are explicit, the birth process visceral and the aftermath is full term.   

Katie Erich as Alice and Adam Fenton as Phil (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Production Notes

The Solid Life of Sugar Water

Written by Jack Thorne

Directed by Indiana Lown-Collins



Katie Erich

Adam Fenton


Director: Indiana Lown-Collins

Designer: Ica Niemz

Movement Director: Isolte Avila

Lighting Designer: Jonathan Chan

Sound Designer: Oliver Vibrans

Creative Captioner 

and Projections Designer:  Sarah Readman



Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval

Booking to 12th November 2022


Orange Tree Theatre

1 Clarence Street,




Phone: 020 8940 3633

Rail/Tube: Richmond

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Orange Tree

on 24th October 2022