Home » London Theatre Reviews » Babies: A New(born) Musical at The Other Palace | Review

Babies: A New(born) Musical at The Other Palace | Review

Don’t let the title put you off – seeing this production doesn’t involve watching people look after babies all evening. Come to think of it, there aren’t any actual babies on stage, just simulator babies. This is not the same as ‘virtual babies’ in a computer game or program, but supposedly lifelike electronic dolls. The mechanics and logistics are secondary to a wider portrayal of teenage life. It is easy to ponder on the ethics of this form of ‘RSHE’ – relationships, sex and health education. Did every legal guardian really give express written consent for their child to carry around a robot baby for five days that would cry at regular intervals and require ‘feeding’, amongst other things? They have no homework in any subjects for a week, but is this a reasonable substitute? And so on and so forth.

The cast Babies: A New(born) Musical. Photo credit: Matt Crockett.
The cast Babies: A New(born) Musical. Photo credit: Matt Crockett.

As one might reasonably expect, the initial highs are, sooner or later replaced by pupils having to endure the challenges of ‘parenting’. Of course, no simulator is ever going to fully replicate looking after an actual baby – I observed, for instance, that nobody learned anything about changing nappies, or indeed the cost of them. The dolls are invariably held in ways you’d (hopefully) never see an actual infant being bandied about. One more ‘real world’ observation: the Year 11 class appears implausibly small for a state school.

The advantage of this anomaly, however, is that the audience gets to know the characters as the show goes on (getting to know thirty pupils in a couple of hours would have been substantially more difficult, possibly even impossible). There’s a lot going on besides ‘babies’. Ben (Max Mulrenan, making his professional debut in this production) and Becky (Jaina Brock-Patel) are madly in love. Alex (Ashley Goh) is assured in their sexual identity, while Grace (Viola Maisey, also making her professional debut) is frustrated because they haven’t quite worked out theirs yet. And when Jacob (Nathan Johnston) kisses Toby (Bradley Riches), what does it really mean?

Lulu (Lucy Carter) is introverted, at least to begin with, although a misunderstanding over a friendship spirals into something unintended and she becomes, literally and metaphorically, the life and soul of a party. Leah (Zoë Athena) has a complicated home life to deal with, while Jasmine (Lauren Conroy) seems to have it all together until it becomes clear to all and sundry that, well, she doesn’t.

‘Hot Dad’ in the first half went down very well with the press night audience, in part thanks to sparkly choreography (Alexzandra Sarmiento), and partly because of its boyband style and appeal. The tunes are catchy even if the lyrics are largely unmemorable. I also wonder if sitting in the very front rows might make it difficult at times to see the very top parts of Jasmine Swan’s multi-level set. That said, in an example of how theatre can demonstrate how the world could be, the pupils are, in the end, very open, remarkably polite and highly inclusive. I found the storylines sufficiently easy to follow, whilst appreciating the sometimes delicate scenarios the narrative navigates.

The production is briskly paced, reflective of the youthfulness of the cast and the characters they play, and with twenty-six musical numbers crammed into a two-hour running time (there is an interval) it’s remarkable that it doesn’t feel rushed. A five-piece band led by Lauren Hopkinson provide driving beats, and Paul Gatehouse’s sound design manages the balance between the musicians and the cast very well. I’d see it again.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

CAST
Ashley Goh (Alex)
Bradley Riches (Toby)
Grace Towning (Cover Leah/Grace/Becky)
Jaina Brock-Patel (Becky)
Lauren Conroy (Jasmine)
Lucy Carter (Lulu)
Max Mulrenan (Ben)
Morgan Phillips (Alternate Toby, Cover Jacob/Ben)
Nathan Johnston (Jacob)
Rowan Macpherson (Cover Jasmine/Alex/Lulu)
Viola Maisey (Grace)
Zoë Athena (Leah)

CREATIVE TEAM
Jack Godfrey (Music and Lyrics)
Martha Geelan (Book and Director)
Joe Beighton (Orchestrations, Vocal Arrangements & Music Supervisor)
Alexzandra Sarmiento (Choreographer)
Jasmine Swan (Set and Costume Designer)
Paul Gatehouse (Sound Designer)
Charlie Smith Associate Sound Designer
Will Hayman (Lighting Designer)
Lauren Hopkinson (Musical Director)
Harry Blumenau CGD CDA (Casting Director)
Laura Seaborn (Casting Associate)
Molly Stacey (Associate Director)
Rachel Luff (Associate Lighting Designer
Martyn Sands (Production Manager)
Jamie Owens (Props Supervisor)
Sheree Paton (Costume Supervisor)

“The year above got pregnant so we’re doing this instead!”

 Summer is done. Year 11 is here. Being a child is out. Being a grown up is in. Time for more parties, more responsibility and, oh yeah…becoming a parent to a plastic robot baby simulator.

 After a rise in pregnancies among the year above, the school’s sex education department are compelled to take action. Fuelled by a blistering pop-rock score, Babies follows nine classmates as they take on their most important school project yet: keeping a fake baby alive for an entire week. As the pressures of teenage life collide with the demands of parenting, the students are forced to ask themselves: what is it I really want? Who is it I really want to be?

BABIES: A NEW(BORN) MUSICAL
The Other Palace
31 May to 14 July 2024

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