The Barron Theatre, 21 April 2011
Rating: * * *
One member of the Be My Baby cast warned me, prior to going to see it, that it was definitely not one for the boys. While I cannot, unfortunately, be counted upon for a male perspective, I can safely say that it hasn’t put me off childbirth, so much as made me glad, for the first time in my life, that I wasn’t brought up in the 1960s. Amanda Whittington’s tragicomedy is equal parts funny and poignant, but there is plenty of social commentary seeping through the witticisms to keep the audience on their toes.
Nineteen-year-old Mary arrives at St Saviour’s mother-and-baby home to complete the remaining two months of her pregnancy, with nothing to look forward to but a strictly religious daily routine before leaving her baby in the hands of an adoption agency. Along with three other girls, she escapes through the power of music and dreams of a better life, but finally she must come to terms with the fact that she cannot escape the stigma society will place upon her as a young, unmarried mother.
The contrast between the liveliness of the girls, with everything ahead of them, and the older women, all dour Northern accents and world-weariness, is marked. Hayley Camis brings a freshness to the stage in her hilarious turn as Dolores, an energetic yet intellectually-challenged seventeen-year-old, and Emily Bell’s Queenie, the voice of reason, embodies the fruitlessness of their dreaming. But as the show goes on, each girl is given her chance to expose hidden secrets, and it is testament to all the actresses that each revelation was handled sympathetically.
The production itself was cleverly worked around a small performance space, though perhaps the stage was a little cramped, and the production might have benefited from a more minimalist set. There were some nice touches, as the actors provided their own rhythm with buckets, books, and bed sheets in some fairly stylised scenes, and the church-like window projected onto the back wall provided a reminder of the religious morals undercurrent in the narrative, a nice contrast with the music of the Swinging Sixties, encouraging the girls to fall in love and contributing to their situation.
With a swinging soundtrack, this workshopped one-act play is definitely worth a look. While it highlights deeper issues regarding how the society it presents viewed women and the roles they were expected to play, it does so without becoming sermon-like. The tone is kept light throughout, and the fact that it is short keeps it from dragging. You’d be forgiven for thinking that society has moved on in the past 50 years, but watching these characters struggle with the choice between motherhood or a career – Mary has 5 ‘O’ Levels and is going places – brings home the uneasy truth that perhaps we haven’t come so far after all.
Though Daria Challah might want to learn not to hold a baby upside down!
Photos by Alex Howarth
Domina Productions, the company behind Be My Baby, was formed by Aisha Farr, Daria Challah, Emily Bell, Hayley Camis, Jennifer Russell and Adelaide Waldrop at the start of the academic term. They are the first self-funding all-female production company in St Andrews, raising the money they need via mince pie sales, hot cross bun and hot chocolate sales to the crowds of Wills and Kate’s visit, and more. The company will be taking Be My Baby to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.