Reviews

Babies review – musical fans will go potty for this world premiere

After a series of sell-out concerts, the musical is back for a full London run

The cast of Babies, © Matt Crockett
The cast of Babies, © Matt Crockett

As a slowly ossifying late millennial, the experience of seeing productions expressly made for and starring Gen Zs brings a lurch of inertia – the realisation you aren’t the youngest demographic in the room. Which might be a bitter pill to swallow if Jack Godfrey (music and lyrics) and Martha Geelan’s (book) Babies – having its fully staged world premiere at the Other Palace in central London – wasn’t such a magnificent new musical.

First seen at a wad of fan-loved, sell-out concerts at the Lyric Theatre (where it was admittedly already in a good state), the show is part of a wave of new British musicals rocking the capital at the moment – including Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York), Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! and, in a few months’ time, Why Am I So Single? and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Each aim to follow in the award-winning footsteps of the likes of Six or Operation Mincemeat in capturing the hearts of both theatre purists and mainstream audiences.

Babies has been trimmed and tightened since its Lyric concerts (though was already in cracking shape), adding Jasmine Swan’s multi-level, jungle-gym scaffold set to add some vertical movement to what would otherwise have been a fairly flat staging.

The premise is certainly novel – and explained in the first 75 seconds of the show – a group of year 11s are coupled up and tasked with looking after a robot baby for a week as a strange sex education programme. (“The year above got pregnant so we’re doing this instead!”) Think Heartstopper meets Spring Awakening with the comedy beats of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, there’s more than enough here to cement this as a buzzing, catchy, endearing belter of a show.

The cast of Babies, © Matt Crockett
The cast of Babies, © Matt Crockett

As he proved with his soaring success with Manchester musical 42 Balloons, Godfrey has a great ear for a tune, and packs a stuffed rucksack of them into the two-hour run-time. Squarely in the pop-rock genre, they’re hook-heavy and catchy as sin – particularly the opening track “Baby, Baby, Baby” and One Direction-inspired “Hot Dad”.

What is perhaps Geelan’s strongest win is the decision to use the realities, agonies and anxieties of actual parents and place them in the absurd context of children with robotic dolls. Kids grapple with the pressures of social media, the mundanity of seeing their friends become baby-obsessed and the hardships of having to raise the “perfect” child. Spectators well into their 60s and 70s were chuckling and hooting by the end – the show may do something miraculous in bridging the generational divide.

Despite bringing an audience to its feet by the end, the first act takes a little while to gel, and Geelan’s direction during the opening couple of numbers see the company a little too adrift on the Other Palace stage. But it’s all held together by a fantastic cast of nine, half making their professional stage debuts (though you’d never imagine it for a second). Heartstopper star Bradley Riches may be a mass-appeal draw here, but he tempers his performance to give an even, ensemble feel. Stand-out turns come from Zoë Athena’s Leah, carrying the weightiest story of the show, while Lauren Conroy’s antagonistic Jasmine unspools the destructive realities of academic pressure. The hot dads – Riches, Ashley Goh, Nathan Johnston and Max Mulrenan – also have a hoot bringing the house down.

With a bit more tightening, it could be up there with the best new musicals of the year. But that doesn’t stop it being a class act.

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Babies The Musical

Closed: 14 July 2024