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Published on November 15th, 2011 | by Colm O'Brien

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Theatre Review: B for Baby @ The Peacock Stage, Abbey Theatre

B and Dee are residents of a care home for the mentally challenged, where Mrs C has a weekend job as a carer. Mrs C’s marriage is under severe strain, as her long-nurtured desire for a child is at odds with her husband’s conviction that they should accept their failure to conceive and get on with their lives. In B for Baby, Carmel Winters brings us through a series of encounters that will have a dramatic effect on the relationships of these four characters.

It’s a striking production, from the set design (a blue, clouded sky curving back from the audience, props hanging in the wings waiting to be brought in) to the way Michele Moran and Louis Lovett each take on two wildly differing roles. But some of the details seem a bit arbitrary — that blue sky doesn’t really add to the experience beyond the initial aesthetic impact, and the same short snippet of Sigur Ros punctuates every single scene, regardless of the tone of what we’ve been watching.

The conflict between C and her husband is the driving force of the plot, but it’s also unfortunately the least compelling element. During her first appearance, C hints at it with the kind of awkward, unsubtle metaphors memorably parodied in Extras (“Are you still talking about the sea?”). The scenes where we get to see the couple interact seem like rote replays of a dead argument, the two of them half-heartedly flinging barbs without ever seeming terribly concerned about what the other really thinks or feels about the situation. It may accurately represent the frustrations of a cooling, uncommunicative relationship, but it’s neither interesting nor edifying to watch.

Dee is by far the most interesting character, and it’s because she’s the least overtly explored. There’s a woolly hostility to her, hints of a hidden cunning, and her tendency to flip between aggressive bluntness towards B and a more bashful, roundabout way of expressing her own feelings provides the funniest and most affecting moments in the play. But overall, there’s just not a lot of space for the audience — not much going on that isn’t laid out right in front of us. It’s a shame, because the play really shines when Winters allows herself to be subtle.

B for Baby runs until Saturday 19 November. Tickets are available from the Abbey website.

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