A warm and welcoming story of ‘Love, Life & Family’, laced with beautiful original music, plays it safe, in this heartfelt exploration into generational childbirth and parenting.
Premiered as a one act play, entitled ‘Grandmother’ at the 2022 Liverpool Theatre Festival, this piece has evolved into a 2-act performance renamed ‘New Generations’. With original songs and writing by Ana Murphy, the development has so much potential but shy’s away from tackling its issues head on. Or perhaps Murphy’s aim is to show that families, despite their best intentions, can tend to brush difficult issues under the carpet.
The jovialities of the close-knit O’Brian family fun nights of games, joking and dancing is brought to an abrupt end following the news of Becky’s (Clare Alexandra Campbell) pregnancy which stirs up some dormant emotions and hidden feelings around the process of child birth, and experiences of parenthood throughout family generations.
The anxious reaction and fears from mum Tessie (Pauline Donovan) are projected onto her daughter, Becky, masquerading as the busy bodying importance of keeping to family traditions, is heightened after the birth of the baby. Eventually unearths to reveal some deeper unresolved feelings and fears which eventually bring mum and daughter closer together (elevated by the wonderful chemistry between Donovan and Campbell).
The heart-warming, scouse/Irish humour is done really well and appreciated, especially conversations around generational approaches to child birth such as calling to the pub to tell Dad about the birth, and keeping up appearances around the baptism of the baby. Counteracted by Becky who is talking about modern gender reveals and breaking family traditions around the naming of the baby.
The play explores issues through a narrow lens of the O’Brian family. Many families, of a similar background and dynamic, would identify with the personalities and approaches of the family, reflected in the laughter it triggered in the audience. Many of whom would also identify with the theme of Postnatal depression, which this play toys with, a common condition affecting 1 in 10 people. Postnatal depression can also affect the partners, it would have been an interesting angle to explore this from the perspective of Becky’s partner, Mark, who is regularly mentioned but doesn’t appear, surely, he’s entitled to paternity leave working on the rigs.
There are touching moments when Becky, upset with head in hands, despite her distress, makes a small, subtle re adjustment of the baby carrier, which was especially moving. A further, deeper understanding and delivery of Becky’s experience would have been appreciated. The family GP (Nathan Murphy) advises Becky to speak to her Mother about her feelings of sadness, which within the context of this play makes sense. However, during his following monologue, the GP was generally brushing off potentially serious mental health conditions with his rhetoric that we should just be kinder to each other, which is detrimental to the awareness surrounding mental health. This unhelpful stance wasn’t challenged elsewhere within the play, only touched on via Tessie’s empathy when she describes the lack of understanding she experienced around the struggles after the birth of her own children, and the added difficulty with her husband Tony (Nathan Murphy) working away, reflecting Becky’s circumstances.
The music and songs work brilliantly, nicely driving the narrative along. The acoustic guitar during transitions would have been complimented well with some onstage scene changes to avoid the slightly long void between scenes. The stage hand would do well to wear show blacks to set and strike the additional GP scene as his entrance in normal clothes confusingly suggests the introduction of another character. This additional scene would actually work well as a monologue by Becky describing the visit to the GP. The staging, already set with both Tessie’s and Becky’s homes, needs stronger definition with some of the action spilling into both areas of the set.
This play certainly has you thinking, perhaps bordering on confusion as to what the take away message is as it fails to delve deep enough into the issues it really wants to deals with. The humour, music and heart still deliver an enjoyable piece of theatre.
Reviewer: Gill Lewis
Reviewed: 22nd September 2023
North West End UK Rating: