BE MY BABY
The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham
28th August 2014
To those who were there, myself included, the early 1960s now seem an eternity ago, a simpler and austere world far removed from the supposedly more tolerant, digital age we know today. The idea of pregnant teenagers being spirited discreetly away to church-sponsored refuges for unmarried mothers, before giving up their babies for adoption and thus avoiding family disgrace, very definitely belongs to a bygone age and seems utterly unthinkable in our 21st century society, however morally lapse it may seem.
Amanda Whittington’s black comedy Be My Baby shines a sobering spotlight on this dark side of the sexual revolution of those distant times, and under Rory O’Sullivan’s sensitive direction, the all-girl cast bring her take on the not-so-wonderful way we were movingly to life.
With only her record player and a few 45rpm singles for comfort, 19-year-old Mary is thrown into a quagmire of misery, drawing strength in her pitiful plight from other girls in similar straits: world-weary Queenie, feisty Dolores and tormented Norma, all ruled by the sympathetic, but iron-handed, matron who makes no concessions to the rigid laws governing illegitimate births. Despite the humour surrounding the eventual delivery, it was heart-breaking to see Mary’s baby girl wrenched from her grasp, never to be reunited with her natural mother.
For all its pathos, however, a sense of optimism prevailed. Several strikingly apt classic 60s hits alleviated the gloom, amongst them a string of harmonious, delicately sung a cappella ballads, and all bookended by some pulsatingly cheerier songs belted out by the glitzy Ronettes-ish vocal group who looked magnificent in dazzling gold lamé dresses. Yet as the lyrics starkly reflected the bleaker realities of this often harrowing tale, they assumed unsettling new meaning, none more so than Mary’s plaintive Take Good Care Of My Baby at the play’s tear-jerking close.
There was a collective strength here, a splendid production driven by a team effort of considerable magnitude. Each character was strong and convincing, and it seems unfair to single out individual performances. Ultimately triumphant were the Patesian Players themselves, chalking up another deserved success to reinforce their growing reputation as a theatrical force to be reckoned with.