DramaMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Be my Baby – Leeds Playhouse, Pop-Up Theatre

Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: Jacqui Honess-Martin
Musical Director: Richard Reeday
Movement Director: Jenni Jackson
Reviewer: Janet Jepson

In the 1950s and 60s, everyone knew a local girl who had ‘gone to stay with her auntie for a couple of
months’. She would always return, with no sign of roses in her cheeks from fresh country air, but
looking a bit wan and sad, resuming her former job and life, but somehow older and less fun-loving.
The truth was that such girls had ‘got themselves into trouble’ and a family would go to great lengths
to conceal that. Mum and Baby Homes took in such unfortunate cases, and usually amid copious
Christian spouting, would see the girls delivered of their inconvenient offspring, arrange adoption to
suitable deserving childless couples, then send the traumatised young mums home to pretend that
nothing had happened.

Amanda Whittington’s excellent play Be my Baby captures the stories of four such girls who find
themselves in one of these institutions. They are completely different characters from totally
different walks of life, who would probably never have even spoken to one another, but they bond
over swollen bellies, shared space and the strict regime. Mary (Simona Bitmate) is a pampered only
child from a comfortable home, who has accidentally fallen pregnant to her medical student
boyfriend and desperately wants to keep her baby. Her mother (Jo Mousley) can’t stand the shame
and sees the future white wedding and career in the bank ruined. “She was a Girl Guide” mother
declares and hands Mary her teddy bear as she tearfully leaves her little girl in the care of a starched
matron (Susan Twist). Mrs Adams’ love for her daughter is genuine, but never enough to overcome
the shame of an illegitimate child.

Mary’s roommate is Queenie (Crystal Condie), a seemingly brash individual with a chequered sexual past and an unhappy childhood. She has handed over a baby before, knows the heartache, and now seems about to have to hand over two more… Queenie loves the pop music of the time and is instantly won over by Mary’s Dansette and her collection of top 45s. Next, we meet Dolores (Tessa Parr) who seems very young and immature and had a steady sweet boyfriend, Archie and dreams of a wedding when there is enough money. Sadly ‘the lad from packing’ who walked her home from a dance when Archie was late didn’t care that she was promised to someone
else. Unable to properly read and write, Dolores skips through life, seemingly not taking in what is
happening. Then there’s poor Norma (Anna Gray a member of Mind the Gap learning disability
theatre company) who was seduced by a married man, and cannot understand what is happening to
her but insists that he will marry her.

This production at the Leeds Playhouse is a refreshing one. The 1960s music that usually
provides a backdrop to the action, is actually made a part of the performance with cast members performing the songs. Every word of such numbers as ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’,
‘Wishing and Hoping’ and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ all have a depth of meaning for the unhappy girls. The
set consists of grey flat boxes that double as beds and podiums; and grey shelves that hold starched
white bedding and ominous box files. Matron’s desk is suitably elevated, institutional and
threatening, but during the course of the story, we are given a hint that maybe Matron is really only a
hard shell with sadness and softness inside. The girls wear uniforms; grey voluminous pinafores to
cover their bumps, and a baby is fashioned from a sheet. Every performance of the play is fully
captioned, which is fortunate as some of the lines are not spoken very clearly. This
is by no means a criticism, because every character is perfectly fitted for her role.

It’s all so sad that girls could be treated this way and babies could be handed over to new families,
with no legal right to ever meet their own mothers. However, this strong all-female cast
demonstrates what women can do together, what they can survive united, and how strong they can
be with one another’s support. This is an upsetting play in many aspects, but an uplifting one
nevertheless. Go along to Leeds Playhouse to experience a largely forgotten piece of twentieth-century history – or is it history? Do women still suffer indignity and discrimination in other forms
today? Either way, it would be impossible not to be moved by that cupboard stuffed full with teddy

Runs until Saturday 1 June 2019 | Image: Anthony Robling 

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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