Preview: Be My Baby

The harmonious sounds of sixties girl groups soundtrack a play about unmarried mothers in a church-run maternity home

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Be My Baby is a drama of contrasts. Set in 1964 in a church-run maternity home for unmarried mothers, it tells how these young women were shunned by society and forced to live out their pregnancies far from the public gaze. Although a storyline concluding with forced adoption is never going to be a cheery one, sparkling, harmonious songs by 1960s girl groups ensure the play retains warmth.

Written by Amanda Whittington in 1997, Be My Baby has become one of the most widely performed modern British works. Director Jacqui Honess-Martin believes that’s down to its blend of the earnest and the upbeat.

“We’re talking about young women, many of them still teenagers, who come together in a home,” she says. “And no matter what the circumstances of them being there, there are going to be some good times. As a play it’s both shocking and amusing; there really is lots of humour in the writing that we wanted to bring out.”

But she adds that the most important aspect about the play is how significant the issues it raises still feel to us in 2019. “If the inequalities and structures we operate under still haven’t changed then, actually, our access to laws and rights which have improved over the last half century can be taken away quite easily.”

Be My Baby will be performed by a six-strong ensemble cast who have been together since last September – presenting productions in Leeds Playhouse’s pop-up theatre during extensive alterations to the building. They promise to bring youthful vigour to an at times harrowing subject.

Working in this new, temporary space has been both challenging and invigorating, Honess-Martin says, hoping that her take on such a widely performed, well-loved play adds to the “kaleidoscope of interpretations already out there”.

She feels responsibility toward those directly affected by the matters raised. “I wanted this production to be something that made people feel very connected to that ongoing struggle women have with agency and the right to ownership of their own bodies and decisions.”

The production took on an even more personal edge when she discovered two members of the company had been affected by the subjects tackled.

And then there’s that soundtrack. Featuring, among others, songs by The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes and The Dixie Cups – each sung by the cast – the music provides “lightness and escape and it’s absolutely a part of that world the characters inhabit, which makes it an intrinsic part of the play’s narrative”.

She adds: “The songs certainly help add to what I hope audiences will take away. I believe they help people engage and relate so I hope they will feel enabled and angry and impassioned and galvanised enough to help make sure this kind of thing never happens again.”

Be My Baby, Leeds Playhouse, 11 May-1 June

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