Edinburgh Fringe 2011
The Baby Diary by Emily Watson Howes – a play based on an internet diary and the journey through pregnancy, originally seen on BBC Comedy Online.
"Jenny is pregnant. Simon is quite lonely. Mike is a bit angry. Sandra is infertile." The Baby Diary by Emily Watson Howes, is a fun and light play about the losses and gains of expecting a baby through Internet diary-making.
The stage is backed by a clear black and white drawing of a characterless lounge, the set consists of this and a sofa, which becomes the meeting place of the characters as the story unfolds. The back screen lights up and we are introduced to one of the leading but faceless characters, the unborn baby, whose existence is almost entirely expressed through written text. The use of ‘I’ to describe itself in terms of development is interesting as it both personalises and dehumanises the baby as a soul entity. By introducing the unborn baby from this detached and medical paradigm, together with ‘voice’ and personality we are already experiencing the ‘push and pull’ of creation and the way in which our culture approaches the threshold of birth.
We are introduced to a sweet and likeable couple nervously but excitedly expecting their first baby, taking the audience on the journey of the conflicting experience of pregnancy, the losses and the gains and the uncomfortable sensation of impending change. The play observes cleverly the ways in which many parents cope with this time of transition.
The humour is infectious, the characters are fairly good mirrors to real life and the storyline lightly challenges the issues around the uses of personal media documentation. The acting is mainly good, the writing is witty and the directing is professional. It’s a well rehearsed and tightly performed performance with imaginative uses of media technology.
If the play’s intention was to highlight the questions around inappropriate use of Internet technology then the play met its aims although it would have been a beautiful opportunity to explore the effects of technology on birth and parenthood further. In its genre of comedy perhaps it never intended to delve this deep but from a personal viewpoint I would have loved to see more questioning and thinking around this topic.
As a midwife, as well as a co-reviewer of this piece, I was disappointed to see many cliches of pregnancy and birth repeated here as is common in many media portayals but on balance I accept that the reactions of Jenny were in keeping with her character. Overall the subject of pregnancy and birth seemed well researched and realistic.
Despite the play being sold as a comedy, myself and my companion did come away feeling slightly cold, perhaps this was the intention of the writing, but comedy can be used effectively to both observe life honestly but also leave the audience feeling inspired and warmed. It did feel at times as if we were watching an average TV sitcom rather than great theatre. Generally it was comfortable to watch and did make me giggle, especially with some very well observed character portrayals.
The uses of media were effective but often overplayed and it felt at times as if we were sitting in a badly lit cinema squinting at an undersized screen.
Jenny and Mike are strong characters and work well together, almost word perfect and create a believable, albeit disconnected and immature relationship with each other. They maintained the rhythm and pacing of the story well and had some great comedy moments.
Some of the dialogue felt uneccesary and the grief explored by Mike for his losses initially very humorous lost comedy value and the attention of the audience when revisited.
Some of the plotline didn’t always feel convincing and Jennys reactions to the flatmate could be better developed.
Overall an endearing and lightly funny show raising interesting observations on ordinary people making very personal and public diaries to broadcast on the Internet. It gently explores the genuine fears parents face when expecting their first baby and also explores work and relationships in our current climate. It was a fairly fun mirror to ‘suburbia’ and would be recommended as a light and accessible play for a range of audiences.