There is no bigger story than a mother being made to give up her baby for adoption and this is exactly the premise of Amanda Whittington’s play, Be My Baby. Set in the so-called swinging sixties, a defining decade when young people were just being given a voice and expression, mother and baby homes still existed. It is difficult to comprehend that just 50 years ago an unmarried pregnant woman would be shipped off to one of these homes to give birth to her child in secret, for fear that a baby born ‘out of wedlock’ would bring complete shame on her family. Propelled by society and their fear of the unknown, the girls would sign their baby over for adoption before even experiencing childbirth or seeing their babies face.
Despite dealing with a bleak subject matter, Be My Baby is packed full of laughter, light and a wonderfully evocative soundtrack. The music serves as a brilliant contrast to the harsh subject matter, serving to lighten the tone and transport us back to the 1960’s.
When Mary (Jess Cummings) is brought into the mother and baby convent by her mother, Mrs Adams (Susan Twist) she shares a dormitory with her beloved record player and Queenie. Jess Cummings shines as the respectable grammar school girl who finds herself pregnant and shipped off to the home, even before her father can find out.
At the centre of the performance is Coronation Street’s Brooke Vincent, in her stage debut as tough mum-to-be Queenie. Giving a very well rounded natural performance, showing heart and impeccable comic timing, Vincent impresses as the hardened young character. Ruth Madoc is quite formidable as the matron of the mother and baby convent. Detached and stern, she gives a wonderfully subtle performance – her maternal instinct just simmers, hinting that she knows more about the way the girls are feeling than she alludes to.
The ensemble cast all give excellent performances throughout, notably Josie Cerise and Eva McKenna, with some of the most poignant sections during their daily chores in the convent laundry. Shrouded by the sheets pegged up to dry, they sing along to their favourite songs and flick through teenage annuals – all trying to come to terms with their changing bodies and myths surrounding childbirth.
Some of the scene changes were very laboured (pardon the pun) at times, particularly in the second half, which did detract from some of the more emotional scenes. However, I’m sure Kirstie Davis is fine tuning this already – leaving the audience to enjoy the powerful performances and emotive subject matter.