Next Door’s Baby – Theatre at the Tabard review

Image above: Next Door’s Baby ensemble with Sam Woodhams (Priest) and Shaylyn Gibson (Miriam, with baby)

Next Door’s Baby – “Theatre at the Tabard has another hit on its hands”

Review by Simon Thomsett

The new show at the Tabard takes us back to 1950’s Dublin in a revival of Matthew Strachan and Bernie Gaughan’s gripping and emotional play with music, Next Door’s Baby.

Neighbouring households, the O’Briens and the Hennessys decide to enter their newest arrivals in a Bonny Baby competition run by the local paper. In the meantime, long held family secrets are gradually uncovered, some of which will have profound consequences.

In an outstanding cast, Jackie Pulford as the O’Brien matriarch grabs the show from the start with a strong opening number and sets the tone for what follows. Her offspring are introduced: Sheila, played by Hayley-Jo Murphy as a fizzing bundle of energy who wants more than anything be a nun, Logan McQuillan as her brother Larry who bounces around the set with an ever present football, and elder son Dickie, who is being reluctantly forced into adulthood, played by Ben Hannigan, who impressively steals the scene during his big musical number. Their sister, Orla, a moving and tender performance from Amber Deasy, is the quiet one, in the background at first but slowly becoming the emotional focal point.

Image above: Dickie and Orla – Ben Hannigan and Amber Deasy

The rivalry with the Hennessys is enjoyably played out. As Mrs Hennessy, Abigail Williams, is the very model of showy piety.  Her sassy daughter Miriam, played with a big heart but scary vulnerability by Shaylyn Gibson befriends Orla and shows her the way to possible redemption.

Director Keith Strachan moves it all along with skill, giving the musical numbers that punctuate the story room to breathe. He turns the familial twists and turns into something quite gripping.

There are diversions along the way including a church service presided over by Sam Woodham’s nervous vicar, miming along to the hymns whilst keeping an eye on his recalcitrant congregation.  It doesn’t add much to the plot but it is a lot of fun.

Image above: Miriam and Conrad – Shaylyn Gibson and Sam Woodhams

Matthew Strachan’s music is delicate, nuanced and immediate enough to seem at once familiar and yet original; it is served well by live playing by Beth Jerem and some very strong vocal performances and reaches a crescendo with an unlikely paean to the joys to be found in Kilburn. The cast also get to show off their dancing skills here and there, Hayley-Jo Murphy in particular, showing us a nifty pair of feet.

Bernie Gaughan’s script is lively and convincing, revealing bit by bit the secrets families keep in order to maintain respectability. As the end comes into view, the outcome remains in the balance and is resolved in a moving and believable way. There is also a neat and crowd pleasing coda at the curtain call just to make sure you head off into the night with a spring in your step. This is good, the theatre at the Tabard has another hit on its hands. Next Door’s Baby opened on 4 May and is running now at the Theatre at the Tabard until 27 May.

Image above: The O’Brien family

Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett has worked in the professional theatre for a number of years. He started out as a stage manager and technician then became a venue director and producer, notably at the Hackney Empire, Fairfield Halls and most recently the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

Since leaving full time work last year, he is now working as a consultant and on some small scale producing projects. He is a Chiswick resident and a passionate advocate for great theatre.