FLW’s BABY is a semi-narrative, semi-surreal exploration of motherhood, and more broadly womanhood in general. Created and directed by Amy Spurgeon in collaboration with the cast and creative team, BABY presents a thematically and theatrically engaging piece of new theatre.
The script navigates seamlessly through the banter of teenage girls, mythological story telling and intense soliloquy, all the while maintaining a balance between making its audience laugh and making them shudder. The piece is most effective in its subtleties – the parts of the script in which the girls’ vulnerabilities and conflicts are hinted at, revealed subtly through dialogue or even through mere silence and/or movement. The play’s mythological scenes exemplified this, being engaging and almost supernatural in performance whilst still connecting with and revealing nuances of the principle characters. My only criticism is of the play’s more overt monologues, which were too overly wordy and rant-like to engage attention and interest in the same manner that previous sections had. The production’s climax in particular, a monologue performed by Lucy Holz, felt too blatant and almost cliché in comparison to the rest of the script. Nonetheless, these digressions were few and far between, and the majority of the writing was engaging and refreshingly creative.
The success of the script is of course aided by the strength of BABY’s three performers – Holz, Sinéad Mulcahy and Lexie Gregory. All give committed and nuanced performances of a clearly physically and emotionally demanding script. Mulcahy carefully brings out both the maternal and childlike aspects of her characters – a difficult balancing act. Meanwhile, Gregory is amusing and engaging in a more tomboyish, childlike role, constantly vying for her friends’ attention in the same manner as the baby. Holz, playing the most serious and jaded friend the three, undoubtedly has the most difficult role; however, her conviction, along with a fascinating touch of sadism in her interactions with the other characters, ensures an engaging performance. Credit must also be given to Spurgeon’s direction, which has enabled seamless and natural transitions between even the most abstract movement sequences and schoolgirl gossip.
The set, designed by Aimee Howard and Jack Murray, is draped in suspended strips of red velvet, cleverly reminiscent of both a womb and an overly decadent brothel. As well as informing the play’s thematic content, the set helps to build a sense of claustrophobia as the action works towards the climax, and is able to be ultimately torn down to great effect. Overall, set design is ingeniously practical and visually engaging.
Connor Ross’s sound design is extremely effective, always supporting the action on stage without becoming overbearing. It stands out particularly in the play’s movement scenes, helping build the sense of repetition without becoming laborious to listen to. Lighting design, by Jacob Trethowan, is similarly impressive, particularly in its use of lighting to create and play with shadow. It is, perhaps, overcomplicated at times, with both the tech team and actors struggling to meet a couple of cues.
Ultimately, Spurgeon and the entire creative team are to be commended on producing a new work which is polished, thoughtful and engaging. In its clear thematic drive, coherency and skillful production, BABY sets itself apart from the majority of new writing.
Four Letter Word Theatre’s BABY runs from the 20th – 23rd of September in the Guild Theatre.
Image credit: Yufan Jo Chen