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Be My Baby

Amanda Whittington
Ovation
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
(2007)

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Summer 1967 was the 'Summer of Love', the onset of what is referred to as 'The Swinging Sixties' where free love, drugs and hippies intoxicated body and imagination. Step back just three years, to 1964, and you are transported to a world more reminiscent of the Victorian era.

Amanda Whittington's play centres in a Mother and Baby Home somewhere in Northern England, where unmarried pregnant girls find shelter to avoid social disgrace. The Home provides refuge from the outside world until the baby is born and taken for adoption, ruthlessly attempting to suffocate the normal maternal instincts of the young inmates. Whittington deals sensitively and effectively with emotional and social aspects of the subject.

The main protagonist is Mary Adams (Lisa Duffy), aged 19, unmarried and seven months pregnant, who arrives at the Home with her Middle Class over-anxious mother (Toin Kanal). They meet the Matron of the House (Tracey Ann Wood), who is strict about applying puritanical rules. There,too , Mary meets three other young females in a similar condition. Each of the girls represents a different social group while avoiding cardboard stereotypes. Each girl confronts her condition and her future in her own way. Mary, unlike the other girls, toys with the idea of keeping the baby.

Despite her feisty character, Queenie (Alicia Davies), Mary's roommate, realises that the reality of the social context in which they operate limits their freedom of action and ability to challenge their situation. She is a beautiful and streetwise adolescent, with dreams of being a pop singer. She asks her flatmate to be honest and tell her whether she has the voice to be a star. Mary is frank with her and Queenie becomes resigned to accept reality and set aside her illusions.

Dolores (Emma McMorrow) is the uneducated and naïve individual, the face and mind of many young girls who are unable to comprehend the implications of their condition.

Norma (Jenny Harrold), whose experience of giving birth in the House and having her baby wrenched away, rattles the others and triggers sobering thoughts in the other girls.

The girls grey existence is enlivened by Dusty Springfield's voice and songs such as 'I Only Want to Be With You', 'I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself' and 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me,' which confer an almost sardonic meaning to the girls' predicaments.

The impressive performance by all the actors, together with Kate Tinley's inspired set design and Stewart Charlesworth's costumes, provide a fascinating study of the existential rollercoaster the girls go through in their final months of pregnancy, which inevitably changed their lives forever.

The sombre social reality of the early sixties against the backdrop of the sparkling lyrics and music of the period, as the title of the play is beautifully realised. Kathryn Ind's production is engaging, moving without being sentimental and should be touring secondary schools as an integral part of a social study of the period and beyond. This is an excellent production and should not be missed.

Until 1 July 2007

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson