Traverse Theatre — until Sat 9 Oct 2021
Guest Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
A New Life (A Mini Musical) at the Traverse every lunchtime this week is certainly not ‘mini’ in its emotional scope or its ambition.
The last in the current series of A Play, A Pie and A Pint, produced by Oran Mor in association with the Traverse, Andy McGregor’s musical attempts more than is probably possible in such a space. If it is never likely to convince completely, it does largely succeed.
Jess and Robbie’s pursuit of the good things in life is torpedoed by an unplanned pregnancy. At first welcomed, looking after a new baby proves to be more difficult than they could possibly have imagined.
There is a great deal to admire in McGregor’s musical. Katie Barnett and Gavin Jon Wright are extremely accomplished and sympathetic as the central couple, with Barnett in particular singing with depth and emotion – traits she also displays throughout.
Alan Orr, who plays their baby (represented as fully grown and tap-dancing) also turns in a winning performance. Such a description undoubtedly makes this sound like a light-hearted romp; while it may start out as such, it soon sets sail for decidedly darker waters. Jess’s feelings of inadequacy and post-natal depression mean that it becomes a much more troubling affair.
Whether the production is able to cope with such a dramatic shift in tone is certainly up for debate. It is unusual to see one of these plays go past the hour mark, but even so, there seems to be more going on than can be accommodated.
While musicals are certainly capable of portraying such dark themes, it does not quite come off in this case. The songs remain comparatively breezy, with their humorous asides, forced rhymes and settings that are borderline cheesy. An attempt to invest the closing number with contrastingly huge amounts of emotion does not quite come off.
Katie Barnett. Pic: Leslie Black
However, as always, an excess of ambition is one of the most excusable faults, and there remains a considerable emotional impact, even as the shifts in tone threaten to undermine the production.
Helping the cast to hold it together is the impressive MD Ross Adam Brown, while McGregor’s direction is clever enough to smooth out the more obvious bumps – something that is not always the case when writers direct their own work.
Jonathan Scott’s design and Chris Reilly’s lighting make excellent use of the space, with Andy Cowan’s sound design notably strong.
While the content of the play does work on an emotional level, it does not always convince in other ways. The more bizarre conceits, such as the bearded baby, work better than the more mundane elements.
Despite the efforts of the performers, the couple’s relationship is not as fully formed as we would like to believe; similarly, it is difficult to understand why someone apparently driven largely by careerism, financial success and material gain would have chosen teaching in a primary school as the way to fulfil those wishes.
Nevertheless, the overall effect is a positive one, in a production that is heartfelt and sincere.
Running time 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 October 2021
Daily lunchtimes: 1pm; Thursday also 7pm
Information and tickets Book here.
Gavin Jon Wright, Katie Barnett and Alan Orr. Pic: Leslie Black