‘Be my, be my baby’ - since seeing Stagecraft Productions’ performance of this Amanda Whittington play these lyrics have been in my head on a permanent loop. The excellent use of the Ronettes and the Dixie-Cups throughout the performance really helped locate the play in the early 1960s, in which something of the cultural revolution of the sixties was beginning to be realised, and yet attitudes in middle England remained repressively austere.
In this context, Mary (Lauren Griffiths), a naïve yet intelligent 19-year-old from a nice middle-class family finds herself pregnant. She is packed off by her horrified mother to a religious mother-baby home, in which babies are requisitioned from their underage or unmarried mothers and handed to the state to await adoption.
The play and its largely excellent cast had no interest in castigating fallen women, but rather, through a series of heartbreaking scenes and stories, condemned harsh judgement and elicited great sympathy from the audience. The five young actors playing the pregnant inmates of this home vividly depicted the pain, despair, and even madness caused by the unnatural separation of baby and mother; the girls were portrayed as the victims of the various men who had used and abused them, as well as of a cruel, moralistic society that did not adequately educate or support them.
The performance was set in the Mary’s small shared room throughout; this accentuated the atmosphere of imprisonment, the limits and confinement inevitably imposed on girls in such homes. Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock gave a standout performance as Queenie, Mary’s likeable working class roommate. Her dreams of becoming a singer represented the futile ambitions of a girl whose overflowing vitality is confined within the life that is her lot.
Other cast members struggled with the play’s pace and the wit embedded in some of the lines: the opening scene between the mother, the matron, and Mary could certainly have been faster and sharper. Overall, however, there were strong performances all round in what was an immensely moving, often humorous, and at times even tear jerking production.