Grand Opera House
2-7 March 2015
Baby It’s Cold Outside is an example of a by-the-numbers story with just enough instances of surprise and wit to keep it from feeling like one.
Following Belfast man Joe as he arrives at the mountain hideaway where his ex Patsy is about to have their baby, the play descends into a genuinely funny culture clash between straight man Joe’s experience of the world, and the views and hopes of Patsy’s lesbian friends and housemates, older woman Sally and beautiful Irish-American Madison. Joe’s hopes of being involved in his baby’s upbringing soon jar with the aspirations of Sally, and Patsy finds herself caught in the middle, building to a riotous climactic scene. Meanwhile, Madison deals with her own issues and heartache over her relationship with her closeted girlfriend.
Acting-wise, the play can scarcely be faulted. Kevin Elliott’s Joe is a madly energetic performance, engaging us throughout, treading the line between loveable and idiotic, but ultimately winning the audience’s affection as he struggles to get his head around the women’s lifestyle. Jo Donnelly as Sally steals the show from under everyone else, and the play is at its best when she and Joe are exchanging barbs, which is often. Kerri Quinn’s Patsy feels overshadowed initially, but gets her chance to shine in the aforementioned climactic scene, firing off one liners left, right and centre in a turn of events that will really come as no surprise to the audience.
Although ultimately a comedy, the play has moments of real poignancy, Brenda Murphy’s script and dialogue giving us moving glimpses into, for example, Sally’s past, without getting in the way of the main story. Amusing anecdotes are used to good effect, and for the most part, things move along at a brisk, engaging pace. Only Madison’s story arguably falters, feeling at times like a tease for an entirely different story, with her girlfriend’s fear of coming out to her evangelical parents, her father apparently a prominent businessman. I feel we really needed the girlfriend herself to appear; without it, Madison’s subplot is left very much unfinished, and, sadly, somewhat irrelevant. That being said, Tanya Thompson portrays her with real charm and heart, so this flaw is really down to the writing. Other slight niggles included a tendency at times to over-explain a reference to the audience, or hammering home an initially good joke beyond its welcome, but these were generally few and far between. Other than the Madison subplot, the only story point I took issue with was a final twist about the baby that feels wholly unnecessary, undermining to some extent Joe’s role in the story- though the final scene between him and the infant is certainly touching, regardless.
The play crucially never portrays Joe as homophobic or unpleasant, the clash feeling more like a conflict between sheltered living and more worldly-wise experience. It’s a testament to the writing that three of the four characters, at least, feel well-drawn without resorting to lazy gay/straight conflicts. It’s in there, but it’s all done with humour, and indeed the best line comes courtesy of Joe’s speculation about gays from the Sandy Row feeling more comfortable in Catholic areas (this is, happily, the extent of the religious/political content).
The set is nicely designed, a spacious living room area (with brief side scenes outside in the snow) providing plenty of room for the actors to interact, and there is a good sense of pacing in the direction of characters’ movements, no-one sitting about for too long. Easily the best scene is a fantastic sequence, brilliantly choreographed, just before the interval, in which Joe helps himself to all the drink in the house when the women have gone to bed, hurling books and other paraphernalia about the stage (including a cushion into the audience), and gleefully launching Sally’s Rod Stewart CD collection through the open window.
Baby It’s Cold Outside is ultimately nothing revolutionary (though it would be hard to imagine a play in which three of the four characters are lesbians in Belfast of decades past), but the atmosphere among the audience in my showing was one of genuine hilarity and enjoyment, with many positive reviews overheard on the way out, and I came away in a better mood for having seen it. There are plenty of edgy and dark dramas out there: this play isn’t, and doesn’t need to be, one of them.