LondonMusicalReview

Babies – The Other Palace, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Book and Director: Martha Geelan

Music and Lyrics: Jack Godfrey

There may be no better contraceptive than actually being a parent. That’s the conceit behind the PHSE experiment faced by a group of Year 11 students in Martha Geelan and Jack Godfrey’s Babies when they are given sophisticated electronic baby dolls to whom they become parents for a week.

Over the course of five days, we begin to see very recognisable adult tropes emerge. Wannabe dancer Grace (Viola Maisey) worries that childcare requirements will get in the way of her auditions; Jaina Brock-Patel’s social media influencer Becky exaggerates (or flat-out lies) to her followers about how smooth sailing being a yummy mummy is, while boyfriend Ben (Max Mulrenan) actually does the parenting for both their babies.

There’s comedy to be mined from those aspects, but while the seam of humour is initially rich, it also turns out to be shallow. The true interest lies outside in the slightly more depth of stories taking place elsewhere, especially with Zoë Athena’s Leah, whose estranged mother is getting back in contact.

With the cast consisting solely of the nine classmates, the only experience we get of Leah’s mother is through Athena’s one-sided telephone calls. There’s a sense of Jacqueline Wilson-level familial trauma at work, although because Leah keeps the troubled relationship a secret from her classmates, this storyline frequently feels detached from the rest of the action.

Still, it does provide some moments of inner contemplation in Jack Godfrey’s music, particularly Athena’s solo Without Saying Goodbye. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on perky, peppy pop numbers, dominated by the show’s signature track, Baby Baby Baby, which is reprised throughout the musical as the school kids’ attitude toward their electronic children develops and changes. There’s also the insanely catchy Hot Dad, a boyband-esque number that satirises machismo by reframing masculinity as being proud of looking after children. Someone Else, in which Brock-Patel balances “motherhood” and her Instagram following, is bright and breezy, although it feels and sounds very similar to Don’t Lose Ur Head from Six the Musical.

Among the fluff, an imbalance at the heart of Babies is hard to ignore. Lucy Carter’s Lulu becomes the emotional and comedic heart of Act II despite being hardly foregrounded at all in the first act. The burgeoning romance between Bradley Riches’s Toby and the football-playing Jacob (Nathan Johnston) has such little meat to it that any satisfaction in its payoff is down to the charisma of the performers rather than the script.

That’s true throughout, with the ensemble cast elevating the material immensely. Lauren Conroy takes her stereotypical character of the tightly wound overachiever Jasmine – the closest Babies comes to an antagonist – and ensures that however hateful she’s being to her classmates, we can identify the pain that has shaped her. Her work helps provide the grit to what could otherwise be an evening full of candyfloss.

For those who have followed Babies from its workshop days to last year’s semi-staged concert at the Lyric Theatre, this six-week run at The Other Palace will be welcomed. But despite all those work-in-progress outings, it still feels like something is missing in Babies that is holding it back. During the five days of their experiment, the Year 11 kids feel a mixture of emotions towards their babies, from frustration to love and everything in between. And that is the takeaway impression of Babies, too.

Continues until 14 July 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Candyfloss musical with grit

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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