What a treat it was to be at The Lowry in Media City last night to see Be My Baby, a play written by Amanda Whittington and featuring none other than Brooke Vincent who plays Sophie Webster on the cobbles.
If any of you are familiar with The Lowry, the play was staged in The Quays Theatre - relatively small, but which lends itself to a certain intimacy between actors and audience. There was not one spare seat.
The play is an absolute joy: witty, poignant and with some terrific music of the best decade for music - the 60s of course. It is 1964 and the play opens with the main character, Mary Elizabeth Adams, sitting on the floor of her bedroom, listening to the wonderful Dusty Springfield track 'I Just Don't Know What to do with Myself' on her portable record player. She is clearly pregnant and about to leave her comfortable middle class home for a stay in a mother and baby home until the baby is born and swiftly adopted. An unmarried mother and a grammar school girl to boot - she must be removed from her education and her home, her condition kept a secret from her father to avoid the shame of what she has done.
Brooke plays the part of Queenie - a tough, streetwise girl, often seen dragging on a fag in order to confirm her coolness, plus the frequent witty retort to the more naïve girls in the home, dreaming of the weddings they will (probably not) have, backed by the Dixie Cups singing 'Going to the Chapel'. It is also revealed that Queenie has been here before, in the same situation and so already has given birth once. Her previous experience of childbirth also helps place Queenie apart from the other girls. She is a girl with a past, a girl who knows the ropes, a veteran at this baby business and is possibly a little embittered at her fate.
The girls in the home are ruled with a rod of iron, wielded by Matron, played brilliantly by Ruth Madoc, of He de Hi fame. She is, as we later discover, a matron with a tender heart but nevertheless keen to avoid sentimentality, and never will she swerve form the fact that the babies, once born, WILL be adopted.
Attitudes of respectability, maintaining appearances, keeping up with the Jones's, trust in the police, the government, the law, the Establishment in short, are all brilliantly conveyed, especially by Mary Adams' mother, the embodiment of respectability and conventionality, who believes no woman is worth her salt unless she can do proper corners on a bed. It may have been the Swinging Sixties in London, but in this unidentified northern town, nothing much was swinging at all.
The title of the play, Be My Baby coincides with the title of the brilliant track by The Ronettes, whose lead singer, Ronnie Spector succeeds in conveying longing and yearning with more than a touch of the innocent belief in the perfection of true love. Though the baby in the song and in the play are different, Ronnie Spector is in with a greater chance of securing her 'baby' than these girls. Heartbreakingly, the girls in the home have no hope of keeping their babies.
Witty, and at times joyful as the play is, the audience is certain to feel relief that the stigma and 'the don't darken my door' attitude towards the girls and their babies born out of wedlock, has been well and truly buried by all, bar, maybe, an oddly and ugly bigoted few.
Ruth Owen, twitter @ruth1722
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