Leeds Playhouse – until 1 June 2019
Reviewed by Dawn Smallwood
Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby is the final production of this exciting 2018/19 Pop-Up Season. This joint all-women Leeds Playhouse and Mind The Gap production, is directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin and is about four expectant young women who are at St Saviours, a church run maternity home, for unmarried women who have fallen pregnant. The matron (Susan Twist) inflexibly intends them to give their babies up for adoption, mainly against their will, to the Welfare Service.
Set in the early 1960s where, compared to today, women didn’t really have any say in the final decision making concerning their child and the guidelines were strongly influenced by the church and a patriarchal political system/culture. Not to mention the very little or no access to family planning support and support concerning the women’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. The play explores the social, political and religious contexts of the story and also the women’s unheard feelings for their plight concerning their babies. Set to popular music at the time the four women are given an Open Mic as a platform to express themselves through song.
The lead character is Mary (Simona Bitmate) who arrives at St Saviour with her mother (Jo Mousley) and after learning about the typical arrangement she is determined to keep her baby. Three other characters; Queenie (Crystal Condie), Dolores (Tessa Parr) and Norma (Anna Gray) are introduced and intermittently tell their stories and circumstances which eventually brings them to the maternity home. Strong themes, though suttle, such as pregnancy, violation including rape and sexual assault, inequalities, discrimination, self consciousness including body image are raised. They are strongly encouraged to forget and get over giving up their baby for adoption and not taking in account the emotional and psychological consequences the women have to face. Decisions that are made in their interest are patronised but their stories shared are contradictory.
Set to Amanda Stoodley’s staging and clever captioning, Be My Baby is performed excellently from the members of the Playhouse’s Ensemble and also Anna Gray, from Mind The Gap. Their portrayals are moving and certainly reflect the realities of the circumstances at that time. The play is disturbingly summarised with regards to women’s rights however with some human touches and camaraderie from the women.
The play certainly reminds how far women’s rights have come today from nearly 50 years ago with regards to equality and legislation. However there is a lot a work yet to be done for women with regards to the criminal justice system, equality and diversity, employment laws around pregnancy and maternity leave and also those who have mental health and learning disabilities. It isn’t just limited to women in exclusive groups but in many other groups and cultures particularly female asylum seekers and refugees where accessing health care (including antenatal and postnatal care) is getting increasingly impossible.
Be My Baby is poignantly moving and there are a lot of issues resonate to themes where many can compare and relate to what matters to them. It is definitely recommendable.