REVIEW: Parenthood The (Brand New!) Musical Revue, Fluffy Top Productions (The Space Arts Centre)

As regular readers will be aware* Mummy and Mrs Mummy typically see grown-up shows separately, giving them each a break and a topic for conversation that doesn’t revolve around children. But if ever there were something to see as a couple, Parenthood seemed like the one. So when invited to come along and review the show, Mummy decided to summon Auntie Poppins** for for babysitting duty. The irony of leaving behind two crying children to go and see a show about parenting did not escape Mummy. But we nonetheless made our own escape and headed out to The Space Arts Centre for a child-free evening of musical fun.

*Mummy is aware that ‘regular readers’ probably consists only of Mrs Mummy and Auntie Poppins.

**After becoming a regular reader, Auntie Poppins bemoaned not having a ‘suitably bloggy nickname’. Mummy has rectified this as compensation for last night’s babysitting.

Where was I? Oh yes, sitting in the sweltering Space Arts Centre, double-parked with icy beverages in preparation for the hour long first act. It’s becoming something of a theme this week that our reviews pay tribute to heroic heatwave performances. A sweaty yet sincere congratulations to this magnificent group of individuals for their energetic and entertaining endeavours. (Although Mummy does feel that there is some sort of parenting metaphor in putting on an act in uncomfortable conditions while being silently judged by strangers. )

Parenthood is the brainchild of husband and wife team Pete Moody and Emily Moody, and based on their experiences of parenting their actual children. Billed as a musical revue, it is not so much a story as a series of musical sketches highlighting the ups and downs of being a parent, told through the eyes of four couples and one single dad. With early moments focusing on pregnancy and birth, we initially wondered whether Parenthood might miss the mark for us as adopters. But as the show covers the entire parenting journey from conception (or more accurately – and mercifully – shortly thereafter) through to becoming grandparents, there is something that will resonate for everyone.

Anyone with a small child will know the struggle of trying to decipher their little darling’s artistic masterpiece that proudly adorns the fridge. For those whose children are yet to go to school, we can assure you that you too will soon know the joys of finding a party invitation lost in the black hole that is the school book bag. And the accompanying horror at the thought of surrendering yet another weekend to soft play hell in the company of other parents. Other recognisable parenting situations include insufferable PTA mums, a complete failure to arrange a mum’s night out until 2030 due to too many competing commitments and a very clever depiction of a school nativity. (Mummy is yet to experience the teenage years, but has no doubt that much of the second act will also play itself out in her household in due course.)

Even those without children may see something of themselves in this show, whether it’s in the depiction of their relationships with their own parents or in Katie Rayner’s hilarious portrayal of childless by choice ‘Auntie Jen’. And parents or otherwise, surely nobody could fail to be entertained by Emily Clare and Jordan Brown’s portrayals of an aged Karen and Paul gleefully watching on as their daughter discovers that parenting isn’t as easy as they made it look. At this stage, Mummy had flashbacks to her own mother’s proclamation that she had wished an awkward child upon Mummy as payback for her stubborn childhood self.

It’s not all comedy though. There are some more poignant scenes, including a new mum not knowing whether she will cope without the support of her own deceased mother and the bittersweet moment as families wave goodbye to their now adult children. If she’s honest, Mummy preferred the darker, comical songs which took knowing swipes at the challenges of parenting (but that probably says a lot more about Mummy than the songs themselves). She did find more to identify with in a song set at the school gates about losing your identify and becoming just ‘Crotchet and Quaver’s Mum’. Likewise the entertaining but truthful song about winging it, which summed up every parent’s sense of imposter syndrome.

Overall though, Mummy and Mrs Mummy both felt that some of these themes could have been teased out more if Parenthood had been worked into a full musical with a fully developed book. There are some really brilliant ideas in this show, which is performed with gusto by a talented cast. The songs are catchy and the lyrics very witty in places. It has all the makings of an absolute hit musical if there were just a bit more substance to the story. Mrs Mummy even said that it reminded her of Company, just without the book.

If we were to make any suggestions it would be to pick one couple to really focus on and flesh out their story (into which the others could be weaved). Although we appreciated the attempt at including a diverse set of couples, we never really got to know any of them well enough to truly feel for them. We knew that Phil was not with the mother of his child, but got no real sense of the complexities of trying to co-parent. Likewise, we didn’t learn how Jo and Beth came to conceive, or the struggles they may have faced as same-sex parents, particularly during the teenage years.

On a slightly different note, we also felt that despite these nods to diversity, all the children were ultimately placed on the same privileged path, ending with being proudly waved them off to (we assume) university at age 18. This felt like a missed opportunity to take a more realistic look at the rich tapestry of modern family life. It could have shaken things up a bit if one of the kids was still living in the family basement at 27, playing on his XBox and washing once a month. It might also have been nice to see some different parenting struggles. Maybe a single mum who struggles to make ends meet and barely sees her kids because she’s working three jobs, but still can’t convince them to put down the iPads at dinnertime. The challenges of step-parents trying to discipline teenagers they’ve only just met. Or the adopters who have taken a different route to becoming parents and are catapulted into the world of school runs and softplay from day one. (Admittedly that one’s personal!) Obviously no show can ever cover every family situation, but we did feel that greater depth might be achieved by considering a wider range of experiences.

Nitpicking aside (incidentally nits is one of those parental delights that has yet to come our way), we had a brilliant night out at Parenthood and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining evening.  Whether you are a parent, want to be a parent or have no desire to ever become a parent, this is the show for you.  

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and a Solitary Mitten (aka 3 1/2 of my favourite things)