**** (4 stars)
I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that a musical about post-natal depression could be funny – but this is what Andy McGregor has achieved with his new show.
Jess and Robbie are all set to move forward in their amazingly busy but exceptionally fulfilling work life – Jess aiming to be head of the primary school in which she teaches, Robbie confident that the latest game app he is developing will be the hit of the century. All is set fair – the present head is finally talking of ‘her successor’, and Nintendo are showing interest in Robbie’s game: so why is Jess suddenly loathing gin and craving fish fingers?
Yes, she’s pregnant: and while both Jess and Robbie are initially terrified, they come to believe that “it won’t affect our lives / it might actually be good”… but things have a nasty habit of not working out the way we plan, and this certainly proves true for our happy couple. Instead of a comfortable hospital birth, the baby decides to come so quickly he is born at home, and despite trying strictly to adhere to the routine laid out in the cult book Good Mother Bad Mother, Jess and Robbie’s comfortable life slowly disintegrates.
I don’t want to reveal the tap-dancing surprise that emerges from under the sofa, but suffice it to say the new baby is not just an immobile wee bundle of joy but a living personality with his own take on what’s going on. Robbie’s increasing involvement with Nintendo means that Jess is caring for their baby all on her own, and increasingly unable to cope. Robbie makes the “right” soothing noises, but these simply aren’t enough and the situation builds to a desperate climax.
Katie Barnett’s Jess is a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a young woman tipping over the edge of sanity as she struggles to cope with caring for her baby through a rising tide of sleeplessness, anxiety, and a growing certainty that she’s simply not a good enough mum. Gavin Jon Wright’s Robbie is a warm caring man whose mind is elsewhere as he pursues what he sees as his duty, trying to get his game accepted by Nintendo so that he can provide for his family, and blind to all the warning signs his partner is displaying. Alan Orr is simply brilliant as the eagerly anticipated, initially welcomed but increasingly monstrous-seeming baby whose comments on his parents’ words and actions add much-needed humour to their situation.
The musical numbers are brilliant: honestly revealing feelings that women/ new mums are not supposed to feel or express – it’s meant to be all loving maternal euphoria, not a downward spiral into despair. Jess gets some wonderful rants – who said being pregnant was sexy and fun?; I should be feeling love but I don’t and Why is my career down the drain but yours isn’t? – and gives us graphic descriptions of labour, sleeplessness, and the black thoughts that come unbidden and unwanted in the sleepless night.
There is a happy ending – but I couldn’t help thinking of all the women who don’t have loving, caring partners and for whom the downward spiral only ends in tragedy. Andy McGregor has written and directed a stunning show which uses music and humour to publish a stark picture of the reality many women face: being expected smilingly to cope and portray a beautiful sexy ‘yummy mummy’ when they are clinging to sanity by a thread.
Nady McGregor: A New Life, A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review: run ends Sat for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-a-new-life