West End Stages Its First Baby-Friendly Performance – And This Mum Was There

They didn't call it 'Let Them Roar' for nothing 👶

Tickets, check. Soft toys, check. Nappies, check. I’m off on a theatre trip with a difference – a baby-friendly performance of Emilia at the Vaudeville theatre in London – with my 20-week daughter who happens to be called... Emilia. My NCT friends and I have snapped up the chance to attend this one-off matinee of the show, which has aptly been renamed ‘Let Them Roar’ this afternoon.

Emilia tells the story of pioneering Renaissance poet Emilia Bassano, feminist icon and Shakespeare’s suspected muse for the ‘Dark Lady’ of his Sonnets. This all-female production, directed by Nicola Charles, started life last summer at Shakespeare’s Globe before it transferred to the West End with some fanfare – and it seems perfect for my daughter’s first foray into the world of theatre.

As we arrive in the foyer, it’s clear a lot of consideration has gone into catering for our babies. Instead of queueing for wine at the bar, a line of parents is waiting to use the baby changing stations that have been set up in its place, complete with nappy bins and hand sanitiser.

Theatre staff are carrying buggies – 150, I’m told – up an impressive five flights of narrow stairs to store them, there are bottle warmers on hand, and each ticket comes with an extra seat to store all the paraphernalia that parents need when going out with their baby for the afternoon.

Before the play begins, the producers thank us for coming to what they call a “historical” showing, saying that staff are on hand at all times and that we should go in and out as we please during the performance – though that’s easier said than done in the narrow rows of a West End theatre.

Cara and baby Emilia.
Cara Burt
Cara and baby Emilia.

From the start of the action there is a constant chorus of crying, although the cast appear to be unphased. We soon get used to the background noise and, even though it sometimes makes it hard to hear, it’s comforting to know it doesn’t matter if your baby joins in the screaming – which my Emilia does at times.

Two and a half hours is a long time to keep a baby content on your lap, after all. However, mine mainly smiles away at what is happening on the stage, including a very modern dance section – complete with flossing! And she is transfixed by the theatre’s ornate ceiling. When she’s hungry, it feels like a comfortable environment to breastfeed in, too.

The show is entertaining and brilliantly acted, especially by the three actors who play Emilia Bassano at different stages of her life: Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins. It feels super relevant, too, written by Morgan Lloyd Malcom – herself a mother of two – in the shadow of the #MeToo movement.

Emilia is at the Vaudeville Theatre

In fact, today’s show came about when mother and actor Gemma Goggin, tweeted the show to find out if there were any baby-friendly performances; she wanted to attend, but was still breastfeeding. Lloyd Malcolm replied that she’d be happy to babysit – producers went one better and arranged the matinee.

I just hope the powerful closing speech from the ‘older’ Emilia about standing up to patriarchy was absorbed by my daughter on some level – it was the only moment during the whole play when all the babies stopped crying.

Given the play’s message about fighting for equality, it was fitting that Emilia was the first West End production to offer a baby-friendly showing, giving parents – mainly mothers this afternoon – the opportunity to access a great new show without needing to arrange any childcare.

Could baby theatre become the latest craze for new parents after baby classes, baby cinema, baby yoga, baby massage, and the rest? Here’s hoping!

Hamilton, Matilda and Les Mis – please follow suit and fast, while I’m still on maternity leave.

Let Them Roar was a one-off baby-friendly performance. Emilia is at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, until 15 June.