A New Life – Traverse Theatre

Directed, Composed and Written by Andy McGregor

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Parenthood’s a bit like a dance. Just as you think you’ve got all the steps down – you end up on your arse. And no matter how hard you try not to compare, it looks like everyone else is just getting the beats faster than you, better than you.

And for Jess and Robbie, having a baby couldn’t have come at a worse time. Jess is on the brink of making Headteacher at her school, and Robbie’s newest piece of game design is catching the eye of the big leagues. But then it happens. You don’t need the details explained, but the long and short of it is there’s another member of the house on its way – and no one can expect what terror is about to be unleashed.

The opening moments of Andy McGregor’s A New Life are, to be frank, pedestrian. There’s a genuine worry that this lukewarm comedy premise may spin off into an almost painfully mundane romantic comedy.

And then Stephen Arden pops out of Kim Shepherd.

From this moment, any concerns audiences may have had are absolutely rattled by the presence of the tap-dancing, wailing and griping man-baby. McGregor’s new musical on the trials of parenthood, with perception towards motherhood, elements of postpartum depression, and self-confidence in the wake of such change unfold in all its spit-covered, rice-cake munching and Peppa Pig glorifying glory. Its writing morphs from predictable to engrossing, even difficult to watch in the moments of full-throttle confrontation.

It’s all tied together by Kim Shepherd’s role as Jess, mother, partner, teacher, and absolutely in over their head. Both vocally and in performance, Shepherd grasps the extremes to which her character will take, handling both the comedic aspects and more sinister moments with control. The time taken by Shepherd to gradually bring down the wall of character and reveal their inner thoughts and distresses is as authentic as it is poignant. They perform Jess with a genuine sense of becoming, understanding the weight they carry for so many in the audience who have felt exactly the same and never spoken a word of it.

Elements of Arden’s incorporation of tap offer quick transitions and more effective communications that despite concerns, Jess is a good mother – being the only one of the parents able to understand wee Barry’s (yes, Barry) needs through these dance sequences. The additional clatter of the tap also aids in reinforcing the irritation Jess undergoes, indeed Fraser Milroy’s sound design may not seem a significant part of the narrative, but the discomfort it causes as Jess comes to the end of her tether places audiences in the heart of it all.

The vindication and determination that Shepherd carries, and Arden radiate isn’t enough to clean up the spurned toys, lyrics, underwritten aspects, and flow of the production, however. Trying their absolute best is Simon Donaldson, who has the weakest hand of the three as Robbie – who is written out of large sequences for both plot convenience and to heighten Jess’ stresses and frustrations. And while McGregor’s composition for A New Life offers a range of bouncing melodies and strong ballads to compliment Shepherd’s powerful vocals, lyrically the songs on occasion feel bloated. It means that due to this lacking presence, the show falls into similar pitfalls of exposition and predictable elements the initial opening had.

There’s something special here. A core understanding of the darkness lurking behind the smiles of new mothers, and of the pain and undisclosed and under-discussed fears and stresses. And presenting this through the medium of a cheerful musical does lend itself to McGregor’s talents – but it isn’t strung together well enough yet. While Shepherd turns in a spectacular performance, and Arden’s sarcastic quips and choreography lay the groundwork – the too-tidy and back-and-forth tone trip the show up in a couple of key sequences.

There’s Something Special Here

A New Life tours to the Byre Theatre on Thursday, October 27th. Tickets for which may be obtained here.

And then on November 5th A New Life will be performed at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. Tickets for Which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Tim Morozzo

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