Theatre review: Baby, He Loves You

Our theatre reviewer, Sam Sims, shares his thoughts on Middle Child’s Baby, He Loves You.

All photography: Tom Arran

Hull-based theatre company Middle Child have been banging out fantastic show after fantastic show since their inception over a decade ago. Whilst to many of the city’s residents they’re perhaps more known for their chaotic annual pantos (the last one of which, Red Riding Hood, I reviewed here), it’s the more understated, character-driven pieces that I think, historically, show just why they have such a cracking reputation.

Last year’s Modest, a co-production with Milk Presents, was, in my opinion, one of Middle Child’s most successful. It was intimate, fun, loud, daring and oh so powerful and offered a nuanced look at the way the marginalised – in this case, queer people – were treated by the ‘powers that be’, i.e. white, wealthy, cis-straight men. You know, them. The company’s latest, Baby, He Loves You, whilst very very different, tackles similar, incredibly relatable, universal themes. 

Baby, He Loves You tells the story of bride-to-be Jodie (Laura Meredith) who is enjoying a rollercoaster of engagement parties and hen-dos as her big day approaches. But when skeletons begin to tumble out of the closet, she must finally question what it means to love your family, no matter what.

One of the most striking aspects of this show hits you before the action even begins. Entering a marquee set up at Humber Street’s Stage@TheDock, you are welcomed into a literal wedding reception – there are tables set up surrounding the stage, complete with pink tablecloths and centrepieces. It’s a really, really great touch by set designer Bethany Wells. 

There’s a lot to like in writer Maureen Lennon’s script and especially for those who have frequented Hull’s many nightlife haunts. Hearing our two leads talk about getting fingered in Mission’s toilets and Jodie’s parents reminiscing on their first meeting in LAs is sure to bring a smile (and cringe) to a lot of people’s faces. Me included.

Being a woman and all of the baggage that that inevitably brings, especially when you dare to question, like in Modest, the world’s dominant powers, is part of what drives Baby, He Loves You. It asks us to look back at our own sexual experiences, our own brushes with what we, in hindsight, might perceive as near-misses – or not. But what is most central to the story is friendship and whether you can actually stand by your bestie when they tell you something inconceivable. Do you really love them as much as you say you do? Well, it’s much more nuanced than that.

Whilst certainly powerful, Baby, He Loves You’s unfortunate lack of nuance lets it down. There’s a deliberate push to make the characters – especially Dan McGarry’s ‘Dad’, Phil, into extreme stereotypes in order to serve the story and whilst I’m sure we all know men like him, he does come across as two-dimensional and lacking any depth. Everything is just so traditional – Madeleine MacMahon’s ‘Mum’, Alison, lives to be a parent and wife and will stand by her husband no matter what, whereas the wedding itself is big, white and expensive and marriage, ultimately a contract between two men handing over the ‘princess’. I wonder whether the point the show wanted to get across could have been achieved by making things less predictable. 

The performances are, however, great and especially Meredith’s Jodie and Elle Ideson’s Lucy. Their scenes together, especially in the far superior act two, are excellent, and whilst both are expected to go big or go home, it’s the more subtle, emotional moments that enable them to shine brightest. Again, the friendship between the childhood besties is really, really something quite special and provides the most nuanced aspects of the show.

Is this the most imaginative and original take on a story tackling consent and a woman’s position in the cis-patriarchal society we still, unfortunately, exist in? No. But there’s a lot to like about Baby, He Loves You and much to take away with you on the journey home. 

[Sam Sims – Theatre reviewer]