A New Life

October 27, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆    Baby blues

Traverse: 26 October 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

A New Life, Andy McGregor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint hit about a young couple failing to come to terms with unexpected parenthood, returns to the Traverse for one night.

The extended 1 hour 20 minute musical comedy from Sleeping Warrior Theatre Company in association with Beacon Arts Centre and Cumbernauld Theatre at Lanternhouse, is now touring Scotland, paired up with McGregor’s Crocodile Rock (reviewed yesterday: ★★★☆☆ Strong performance).

Kim Shepherd and Simon Donaldson. Pic Tim Morozzo

A New Life features archetypal middle-class millennials Jess (Kim Shepherd) and Robbie (Simon Donaldson). She is a teacher who already has eyes on her school’s upcoming headteacher vacancy; he is a computer programmer who has developed what could be the next big gaming phenomenon.

She is thinking about buying a house in Morningside, he, that they should maybe go travelling while they’re still young and carefree enough. A baby is the last thing they need. Inevitably, a baby is the one thing they will get.

With Jess noting ‘we are comfortable, we can afford it’ the opening songs and scenes are set pieces delivered in a pleasant, almost too cosy, style. However, the lack of any sense that parenthood is something that they can’t afford makes the subsequent disruption of their lives all the more dramatic, acting as a reminder that post-natal depression and more have no regard for social status.

scene stealer

The show comes to life when the baby arrives, played by grown adult Stephen Arden. He is an immediate scene stealer as he emerges from underneath Jess. Arden milks every line and every gesture to full comic effect as the not so innocent child determined to get his way and to make his parents lives a misery.

Stephen Arden, Simon Donaldson and Kim Shepherd. Pic Tim Morozzo

This risks descending into a twee, inaccurate, homage to bringing up baby, but McGregor’s script and songs head down far darker avenues as Jess is left at home while Robbie’s game gets picked up by Nintendo and he is increasingly absent.

Shepherd stands out with a brutal and convincing portrayal of someone dealing with the realities of a life that has moved from career woman heading for promotion to a stay at home mum whose life is taken up by a baby.

The inner conflicts, guilt, loathing of her child and loathing of herself for loathing her child are all captured in what she brings to the dialogue and the songs McGregor has provided her with.

incessant demands

As Jess sinks into despair, Arden’s relentlessly tap dancing baby serves as the perfect metaphorical representation of the incessant demands of a child who is oblivious to the carnage that may be going on around them.

In contrast to the nuanced, multi-layered character that Jess becomes, Robbie is far more static. From his job, the strained relationship with his father, and what happens when he recognises the parallels between them, he is little more than a stereotype: a foil to Jess’s journey rather than someone going through a similarly complex journey.

Kim Shepherd and Stephen Arden. Pic Tim Morozzo

This is a weak spot in an otherwise strong story. Donaldson does all he can but he has definitely been dealt the weakest hand when it comes to having a role he can make his own.

As director, composer and writer, McGregor has crafted a show that combines comedy and serious issues with strong dialogue, imaginative staging and music.

Where they work well, the songs provide real moments of humour – such as where father and baby dance in top hats to tell mum what life will be like as if they have come from a children’s TV show – or real drama and emotion when Jess escapes from the house unable to continue as a mother.

Yet this is not a musical where everything else is merely a build up to the next song. Indeed, at times the songs run the risk of holding up the story with lyrics that are unnecessary exposition.

The conclusion feels a bit too neat and cosy for the dark turns it has taken, and the solution minimises the impact of what has gone before. But overall it works and, with far more positives than negatives, it justifies the decision to extend it from its A Play, A Pie and A Pint roots.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Wednesday 26 October 2022
7.30pm.
Run ended, but now on tour with Crocodile Rock.

Tour dates for both shows at  https://sleepingwarriortheatre.com.

Kim Shepherd and Simon Donaldson. Pic Tim Morozzo

ENDS

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