A revival of an old-fashioned Irish musical with book by Bernie Gaughan is currently playimg at the Tabard at Turnham Green, where the O’Brien family live hand to mouth next to the more well-to-do Heggartys.
Both houses have young baby boys, both have family tragedies, and there’s a competition in town in this Dublin of Catholicism and dreams of escape to new worlds.
Pretty Miriam Hennessy (Shaylyn Gibson) and practical Mrs O’Brien (Jackie Pulford) are introduced as widows and recent mothers, but their lives are very different, and it transpires both hidden behind secrets.
Meanwhile, Mrs Hennessy (Abigail Williams) courts favour with the priest while trying to one-up in a neighbourhood that is surely beneath them to live in. Their advanced status is hinted at by a table and chairs; the O’Briens have benches.
At home with the O”Briens, older son Dickie (golden-voiced Ben Hannigan) flip-flops around marriage, younger son Larry (Logan McQuillan) with football and hole-ridden jumper acts up, and younger sister Sheila (Hayley-Jo Murphy) procociusly recites the seven deadly sins and questions St Thomas Aquinas.
The late Matthew Strachan’s music and lyrics turn from Irish folk to ballads and torch songs with ease. Although this isn’t a score you will walk out singing. Clearly story- and scenario-led, the words mean more than the tune.
Colour before the show is provided by recordings of Nat King Cole and Josef Locke, and after by a reprise of a rousing song about Kilburn, complete with Irish dancing and drumming.
There are moments where Dickie, Orla (a fine debut from Amber Deasy), and Mrs O’Brien shine; and bits of comedy in church and around a postbox which land with broader strokes.
There’s no real mystery in Next Door’s Baby around what happened at the O’Briens. Elder sister and assigned drudge Orla comes into her own in act two, while Miriam’s star briefly looks as if it will soar but becomes conventionally capped.
Some nice touches in the lighting are of note – a song about mothers goes from trio to quartet in pink arcs while Mrs O’Brien’s ghostly dance with her husband Christy touches the heart.
This is a curious show to revive – it was first workshopped and staged at Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre more than a decade and a half ago – but it is good entertainment with strong direction from Keith Strachan and enough enthusiasm from its cast of eight to make this a hit.
Next Door’s Baby continues at the Theatre at the Tabard until 27 May: tickets here.
Image credit: Charles Flint