Review: Baby at Drayton Arms Theatre

If you’ve ever felt like everyone you know is having babies, then you’ll be right at home watching Baby, a romantic comedy musical about, er, people having babies. The story, set at a college in the States, begins with three women – a student, a gym coach and the wife of a professor – discovering they’re pregnant, and follows each of them as they set out on the life-changing path ahead.

Photo credit: Thomas Scurr 

And there’s no doubt that this news does change each of their lives, just not necessarily for the better. While Pam (Laurel Dougall) is delighted to hear she’s finally pregnant after two years of trying, for 21-year-old student Lizzie (Holli Paige Farr) and 43-year-old mum of three Arlene (Barbara Jaeson), the thought of having a(nother) baby is more than a little daunting. And in all three cases, both the announcement and the events that follow it expose cracks in what seemed like perfectly healthy relationships.

This is actually fortunate, because despite the best efforts of writers Sybille Pearson (book), David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics), it turns out being pregnant (or not) alone doesn’t really provide enough material for a two-act musical. It’s therefore the couples’ marital (or not) problems that form the backbone of Act 2, which is much more sombre than the joyful optimism of Act 1. By the end of the show, it’s not only a question of who will have their baby, but also who will overcome their problems and stay together – and whether they even should.

Written and set in the 80s, the show also exposes quite a few outdated attitudes, none of which, frustratingly, are ever challenged by any of the characters, male or female. Pam’s husband Nick (Stuart Scott) is the perfect partner – sweet, funny, supportive, encouraging – right up until he discovers it might be his baby-making equipment that’s defective, not hers. Danny (Danny Whelan), Lizzie’s boyfriend, is outraged when she refuses to compromise what she believes in and marry him just because they’re pregnant. And even Arlene’s husband, the otherwise lovely Alan (Christopher Lyne), throws a bit of a strop when his wife expresses perfectly legitimate concerns about becoming parents all over again.

Photo credit: Thomas Scurr

The flawed story is, however, supported by an enjoyable score, with a well balanced mix of humour and emotion. It’s also extremely well performed by the cast, directed by Marc Kelly and accompanied by musical director Kieran Stallard on piano. The three female leads – Holli Paige Farr, Barbara Jaeson and Laurel Dougall – are particularly strong vocalists, the only issue being that their performances occasionally seem to belong on a much larger stage. The same is often true for the ensemble numbers, which can be a bit overpowering given that the audience is mere inches from the performers.

An enjoyable romantic comedy, Baby makes for an entertaining evening, in the company of a polished and talented cast. Together they take us on a rollercoaster ride of emotion through the highs and lows of bringing a baby into the world, with all the expectation, delight and disappointment that’s a natural part of that journey – and although aspects of the show could certainly use an update, those emotions remain pretty timeless.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

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