When I went to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking in New York, we sat in the centre of row C of the Stalls and every time I woke up she seemed to be staring directly at me.

There was a touch of that in Avalanche at the Barbican – not that Maxine Peake was staring – and she is infinitely more watchable than Redgrave’s repetitive strain – but that it’s a play which will more directly engage women, especially of childbearing age, than older or gay men. It’s about conception, and the endless, backbreaking, heartbreaking road travelled by the solo character on her quest to defeat nature’s suggestion she can’t have children.

It starts well with an amusing rekindled romance with a handsome university mate, but when they realise they are not ultimately compatible, the character known only as ‘Woman’ sets off down the route of IVF, harvested and stored eggs, sperm taken directly from the testes of a vasectomised male and so many clinical explanations that you come out wondering why you don’t regularly incorporate ‘blastocyst‘ in your everyday conversations.

As we move in to the repeated sequences of implantation and fertilisation, with so many concomitant failures, it’s wonderful to see how Peake deals with hope, pain, loss, regret, impatience and a persistent affection for her potential ‘childing’ as she brings to life the true story of the Australian screen writer Julia Leigh who balanced studying for a PhD, writing and directing for film and television with her complex struggle to carry a child to term.

Being based on Leigh’s autobiographical novel, Avalanche is mostly one-sided and you are expected to cheer on Peake’s character ‘Woman’ and hope for her successful outcome. The acting is significantly better than the material which can be interpreted as middle class whining about first world problems. But the piece does not shrink from suggesting that there’s over-optimism in the IVF industry, and that the number of successful pregnancies is much smaller than you might think.

It’s unclear whether the character is passing through the public or private health system, but in either event, the expense is not ignored and the piece leaves you wondering for how much longer the NHS will indulge potential parents who cannot easily and naturally conceive, with three rounds of fertility treatments at the taxpayer’s expense.

Ultimately, like the minimal set, Woman’s life falls apart, and Peake’s superlative acting brings the story to a rueful conclusion.

But you might also wonder, like the man on his way out to the bar, “why didn’t she just get a dog?”

until 12 May as part of Fertiliy Fest 2019