Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
From the glibly coloured paint on the background to the drab wooden boxes and cardboard props, Brendan Murray's play Big Baby is without doubt threadbare. However this in no way harms the production, the facade and drab outlook more pointedly drive home the superficiality of the play's settings. The stage direction and dramatic use of lighting is well accomplished and lends itself to the action, without ever detracting from it. The fast pace and episodic structure also helps to unfold the action to its tragic finale, punctuated by occasional musical numbers, and healthy smattering of post-modern references.
The play concerns the story of an 18th century couple and their newborn baby genius, plucked from the rural Scottish countryside and brought to fame in London by a succession of "Educated Men". The story then spirals out of control as they are torn between what is right and what is best for their baby.
The story is a tongue in cheek slant on the modern emphasis of the importance of good education, and the measurements that can be made in contrast to its worth. Even as the teacher literally force-feeds the Baby pages of Latin verb tables, we are led to question the reasoning behind the drive to educate the masses for results rather than the benefit of the pupils themselves. These themes are then re-applied to the areas of fashion and public demand. Unfortunately this is not nearly as well thought through and would unhinge the credibility of a play less abstract and surreal.
If the play has a downside, it is the lack of punch in its finale, as the final few moments ride the crest of being somewhat contrived. However, this is minor quibbling at what stands out as a brilliant satire of the educational system and the "Nanny state".
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan