“The last thing your father needs is a little tramp turning up on the doorstep.”
These words spoken by Mrs Adams (Sophie Holmes) in Be My Baby show just how socially bound the characters on stage truly are in this emotional yet lightly humorous play. Set in 1964, Be My Baby tells the story of Mary Adams (Georgina Jeronymides-Norie), brought to a Mother and Baby home due to her shameful situation; 19, unmarried and pregnant. Unbeknownst to her father and forced to go by her mother, Mary joins three other girls; Queenie (Lydia Scott), Dolores (Zoe Moulton) and Norma (Mary-Rose Clark). The girls are placed under the care of a seemingly unfeeling Matron (Sarah Head), whilst they gradually realise the hopelessness of their situation and the inevitable fact that their baby will be taken away from them and put up for adoption. The use of uplifting sixties music as well as the girlish bond the four form nicely balances the moving dialogue and shocking plot-line of a play based on real-life accounts.
The casting by director Emily Heaton and producer Sophie Hiscock for this all-female play has to be applauded. Dolores in particular was magnificently brought to life by Moulton, and produced a number of laughs from the audience with her amusing facial expressions and perfect loveable portrayal of a ditsy girl, who didn’t quite understand how she was going to give birth to something inside her that was upside down! Indeed, whilst the ignorant conversations about childbirth provided a much needed comedic touch, they also had a serious undertone. None of them quite knew what to expect, and considered that the babies would just ‘drop out’. The girls’ ideas regarding labour, their dreamlike attitude to the men that placed them in this situation as well as their hopeless dependence on love songs, perfectly reminds the audience of their youthfulness.
The articulate Mary appears more knowledgeable than the other girls; a result of her privileged upbringing which is frequently alluded to and places her against the others in the class battle. Nevertheless Jeronymides-Norie allows the character to appear warm and open-hearted. This is highlighted during the girlish dancing scene she shares with Queenie when the two start singing along to music in their attic bedroom. However, it felt like something was still being restrained in Mary’s character. Her reserve was never quite diminished enough, something that perhaps was expected a little more considering her placement with the grounded girls in the home.
Scott as Queenie was a glowing character with her witty comments and refreshingly realistic attitude. The revelation that comes during Mary’s labour is suitably shocking yet provides an explanation for Queenie’s bold personality and an insight into her history.
Mary-Rose Clark provides a classic example of a quiet, apparently boring girl in her portrayal of Norma. As the play progresses though we see that there is more to her story than first expected and Clark sensitively conveys the idea that Norma is a naïve girl who has been led astray.
Whilst the four girls develop and connect with the audience, Mrs Adams (Holmes) and Matron (Head) are contrasted as the mature, aloof, colder characters. Yet the revelatory conversation that occurs between the two towards the end of the play confirms the audience’s suspicions that there is more to them than first expected. Whilst Holmes portrays the softening of Mrs Adams after visiting her grandchild in hospital, Head teases us by revealing that Matron has actually been married. Annoyingly, we never learn anything more, but the hint that there is a hidden history to be discovered lends another dimension to the character, enhanced by the touching finale of the play that leaves Matron tenderly and thoughtfully holding Mary’s baby alone on stage.
The scenery perfectly depicts the era and the maternity dresses the girls wear in the home connotes images of school uniforms which emphasises further their youth. The use of the teddy bear throughout the play is a clever symbol of childhood and innocence but also the daunting idea of growing up and letting go that each of the girls has to experience. The placement of the cross on the wall of Matron’s office is a subtle yet constant reminder for the girls and the audience of the influence of religion; cue Norma’s touching scene where she believes she is going to hell and the reassuring recital of the Lord’s Prayer by Matron.
The lighting subtly allows for changes of scene and the length of time the audience are left in darkness during Mary’s labour suggests a lengthy experience, and leaves us anxiously anticipating what is to come. Clever use of freeze frames and dim lighting to allow two scenes to occur at once, when Mary is packing to leave whilst her mother and the Matron are speaking in the office, work brilliantly.
Perhaps most important is the music as it successfully lightens the mood of a play that could, without the comedic performances of Dolores and Queenie, be somewhat hard hitting and shocking. The songs ‘Chapel of Love’ and ‘Be My Baby’ are frequently sung or played by the girls, their hopeful lyrics reflect the girls’ desire to be married and have their happy ending. We also hear near the beginning of the play, a soundtrack of children singing, which may try to pre-emptively enforce ideas of childhood and joyful innocence onto the audience, yet I felt that this was not completely necessary as the play was strong enough to stand alone without it.
Leaving the theatre, I felt an overwhelming sensation that the play could easily be seen in a feminist light; performed by an all-female cast, with stories of married men, rape, and empty promises it is all too easy to see the characters’ suffering as male-inflicted. However, there is so much more to this play than that. The constant hope of love and marriage might seem childish and girly, but it allows the characters to dream and bond with each other. This is echoed by the fantastic choice of music that seems so central to their optimistic spirits. The balance of comedy and music with the heart-breaking dialogue and plot truly define this play. The volume of cheers and applause the cast received on opening night were thoroughly deserved for a thoroughly touching performance by all.