Customs House, South Shields
Tom Kelly is one of the North East's most prolific playwrights and the Customs House is almost his second home: a season at the theatre without a Kelly play is almost unthinkable! The reason for this is simple: his writing strikes a chord with local audiences . Even though his themes may be universal, the settings and characters are very Tyneside. In most of his plays, in fact, the area is itself a character and it would be hard to imagine them set anywhere else.
They are usually domestic, gentle plays, focusing on family matters and relationships, and setting them in what is almost an historical context. The past is always there, influencing - even shaping - the present.
So it is with Baby Love. Shelley desperately wants a baby. Her biological clock is ticking and, now in her thirties, she feels that her chance will soon be gone. Boyfriend Darren has reservations. At first it seems as though his concern is about what will happen to their act - they are singers in the working mens' clubs - but gradually the real reasons become clear, and they lie in his past. Through dialogue, flashback, addressing the audience directly and songs (for we see part of Shelley and Darren's act), the real reasons for his reluctance emerge and, by facing them, he is able to put them to rest and accept the idea of becoming a father.
Kelly is also a poet and there is more than a trace of lyricism in his writing, but it is a lyricism which blends well with the realism of his dialogue (and, indeed, soliloquies). The result is a gentle, slightly comic, even slightly sentimental portrayal of a domestic situation, which today's matinee audience thoroughly enjoyed.
Like many plays of its type, it stands or falls by the quality of the playing. It would be so easy for it to become sloppily sentimental, but the cast of Patricia Haws and Neil Armstrong, under the direction of Chris Elphinstone, stay on the right side of the line, pointing up the humour and avoiding the trap of descending into a slough of slush. And, incidentally, they sing very well, too, ably and unobtrusively backed by keyboard player Paul Hetherington.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan