Amanda Whittington’s 1998 play, Be My Baby, is the first production from Manchester’s newest, and all-female theatre company, Asphalt Roses.
Be My Baby tackles the problems of teenage pregnancy in 1960’s England. Four teenage girls find themselves in an institution for unmarried mothers. Illegitimate babies are born under the watchful eye of the matron, and given up for adoption – in a decade where Britain had never had it so good, it’s easy to overlook the situation of these women.
As the play opens, overbearing battleaxe of a mother Mrs. Adams (Laura Campbell) deposits her fragile daughter Mary (Hannah Blakeley) into said institution under the watchful eye of the stern Matron (Morag Peacock). Mary quickly meets her fellow ‘inmates’, the world-weary Queenie (Leni Murphy), ditzy Norma (Bethan Caddick) and optimistic Dolores (Victoria Tunnah).
Lucia Cox’s direction brings out the best in the cast, whether it is the girls’ child-like singing and innocence as they go about their daily chores, or facing up to their own personal challenges.
Hannah Blakeley gives a believable performance as the conflicted Mary. Laura Campbell’s Mrs Adams wavers from protecting her social standing whilst wanting to wish the best for her daughter. Leni Murphy’s Queenie has all the answers whilst hiding her secrets well, her rebellious instincts curbed by harsh reality. Bethan Caddick’s Norma becomes the shell of her former self after her baby is took away, and her performance becomes haunting to watch.
Victoria Tunnah’s likeable Dolores might be the youngest of the group, but proves to be resourceful and endearing. At the helm of the girls is Morag Peacock’s Matron. Her steely exterior proving to be just an exterior, brisk professionalism taking over in a crisis and helpful, motherly advice dispensed as required by the girls.
The performances are strong, and this debut production accomplished. Unfortunately, it’s the script that lets the side down. It’s a little pedestrian, and there rarely feels like peril, such are the beats of its well-known story. The babies are took away from their mothers, the mothers are expected to cope, it’s all very matter of fact. The matron believes in, and wishes the best for her brethren, and the girls in this institution make rumblings of wanting to escape, but ultimately form a sisterhood within this prison despite their differing backgrounds.
This said, Whittington’s script does shed a different light on the 1960’s. Commonly seen as a progressive time, the Motown soundtrack acting as background to the action might as well be the other side of the world. Queenie’s imploring of her ability to sing is a fantasy when you look at the situation she is in. Meriel Pym (busy this week with not only Be My Baby, but Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me) gives a sparse but effective, and period, design to proceedings, with each area clearly defined.
Is this just for a female audience? Certainly not – but a female voice gives it a different perspective. As it is, Be My Baby is an accomplished and solid piece of drama. Very enjoyable and a strong start for this new theatre company – one that I await with great interest to see what original pieces they can come up next.
The Fiction Stroker gives Be My Baby three and a half strokes out of five:
Read more about Asphalt Roses’ vision for theatre over on Salford Online here.