Natalie Shepherd, drama teacher and mum to two – and Penny’s partner in crime from her teaching days – went along to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, with her 7 and 4 year old sons to review Beasty Baby and the after show crafts.
Beasty Baby, Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
Did you ever want to bottle up the feelings from those early weeks/months after a baby entered your life and revisit them when you were less tired, less stressed out and more aware of the magic they represented? Or perhaps you wondered how your friends’ lives appeared to be turned totally topsy-turvy by such a tiny little thing? Well, Beasty Baby is a play which captures all of the above and more.
The setting is a beautiful log cabin flanked by trees with a central window through which can be seen a snowy woodland. The perfect location to suggest a world in a bubble, a sort of enchanted winter wonderland. The three adult characters appear on stage all dressed up in their winter woollies, carrying on the simplistic wooden furniture as they set it up in the space to create a nursery. The only sounds are tick tocking music, humming, singing and the odd spoken word; the cast communicate this way throughout the entire play which adds to the sense of mystery, the other-worldly and the slightly untouchable. The anticipation of the young audience is palpable as the set is created and the story gets under way.
The baby, represented by a soft doll with a slightly cross face, a shock of red wool hair in knitted baby grow, reveals itself to the audience in the opning sequence being passed between its carers who hold him awkwardly, yet lovingly. It takes all three adults to feed, change and put the infant to sleep, which they do so using exaggerated gestures, mimes and facial expressions, all to the amusement of those watching. Particularly resonant with the little people are the changing nappy scenes which highlight the wilfulness of the baby, punctuated by rude sounds and comic reactions of the grown-ups to the smell. These routines are played out to the soundtrack of the ticking clock (an actual clock with a mbira built inside and played by John Pfumojena), along with sweet humming and snuffly baby noises. Particularly amusing is the moment when, after struggling to get baby to sleep in a variety of different ways, John Leader ends up practically inside the cot, still holding the little one.
Time passes and baby grows, fills out his baby grow, grows some more red hair and claws appear on his feet! Then the fun really starts. The little one has all running rings around him as his demands get more vocal and the grown-ups adapt themselves and the environment to meet his needs. The cot gets upturned and becomes a playhouse of sorts, on occasion a prison in a game which gets the audience to delightfully squeal ‘he’s trapped!’ At one point the beasty baby is on top of his bed and chair holding his spoon like a staff or a baton as he conducts the chaotic fun taking place around him. Baby is beautifully puppeteered by Sian Kidd who also takes on his voice lending it an endearing quality as he calls for ‘John John’, the ever entertaining yet even more exhausted acrobatic carer.
But all the quietly understated madness and mayhem culminates in a wonderful coming-together finale as the trio and beasty baby head outside into the winter snow. No more ‘no’ and lots of ‘yes’ are uttered as they embark on a sledge ride while the snow softly falls and a soothing song is sung. Peace at last. A wonderful journey for children and adults alike.
Natalie’s sons enjoying the after show crafts…
Find Out More
Beasty Baby until the 3rd Jan at Polka Theatre, Wimbledon. More information here.