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Boxxed Productions’ "Taking Care of Baby" by Dennis Kelly

In a stroke of luck, a last-minute word-of-mouth recommendation led me to the final performance of Boxxed Productions' "Taking Care of Baby" by Dennis Kelly. This brand new company aim to support emerging artists into work as well as bring exciting and thought provoking performances to their audiences. And boy did they do just that. Directed by Jo Beadle, the entire cast showcased superb talent in immersive dramatic performances that felt real, measured, and poignant.

Performed in the beautiful and secluded Samuel Worth Chapel in Sheffield, the setting initially lulls the audience into a sense of tranquility. However, this is quickly subverted with a stark and almost clinical white studio space, complete with projected text screens, white chairs and tables, and a thrust stage area. This simple set and documentary-style title cards instantly set the tone and created a claustrophobic atmosphere as we delved into the story of Donna McAuliffe.

Told through a series of interviews and video clip transcripts, Dennis Kelly’s script explores the life of Donna, who is released from prison following an appeal of her conviction for murdering her two infant children. We also meet Lynn, her local politician mother, who suffers dashed dreams of parliamentary success by association with her daughter, a cruel and distasteful tabloid reporter, and a stern psychologist eager to use Donna as proof of her theories on Leeman-Keatley Syndrome.

Donna, played by Michaela Caine, is a woman recently released from prison. Despite her grim past, Michaela creates a reserved, shy character who elicits sympathy and compassion from the audience. From small body language ticks to expert use of timing, Michaela delivered a deep and emotional portrayal that expressed the layers of a wounded woman struggling with trauma—a truly mesmerising performance.

Abigail Oaks as Dr Millard commanded the stage with an almost TED-talk-like stance, educating us on Leeman-Keatley Syndrome, a mental disorder in which young mothers inflict unconscionable acts of cruelty upon their unsuspecting children. Her fast-paced delivery and sharp tongue created a superb stern professional, setting the audience on edge as she fervently defended her work and research, and chastised her kind-natured and hospitable husband, played remarkably by Connor Varley.

Lynn, Donna’s mother, injected energy and levity into what is undoubtedly an emotionally heavy piece for the audience. Trying to support her family while also salvaging her political career, this boisterous and sometimes overbearing mother was played phenomenally by Naomi Conway. Huge praise is due for her incredible performance that walks the razor-thin line between a relatable and charismatic public speaker and the unsettling and commanding attitude of a narcissist.

Marcin Narozanski gave a stand out performance as the dislikable tabloid reporter, taking pleasure in the trauma of a family in hopes of selling papers. Delivering a masterful level of toxic and unsavoury attitudes without leaning into villainy or over-the-top cruelty, Marcin must be commended on his subtly and sneer-worthy characterisation.

James Valentine as Donna's husband, Martin McAuliffe, brilliantly played the part of a grieving father, skillfully exuding a quiet rage and disdain for the persistence and insensitivity of the author and the intrusive documentary demanding he relives the worst days of his life.

This small cast had excellent chemistry together in every scene and pairing, leaving the audience stunned with their fantastic talent for verbatim theatre and a natural sense for the chaotic and alarming way people talk and react when nervous, upset, shy, or angry.

Beadle's direction created an excellent ensemble piece that enticed audiences with a thoughtful look into the horrific details of a child's death, and left us with burning questions, a sense of unease, and a bleak yet tender exploration of grief, exploitation, and the hypocrisy of journalism.

Huge praise to Boxxed Productions and I eagerly anticipate what they will do next.

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