Theatre Review: Be My Baby at The Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up Theatre

As restrictive American abortion laws continue to cause controversy, Amanda Whittington’s play, Be My Baby, feels even more timely, closing the Playhouse’s summer programme in the pop-up theatre where Leo Owen caught the show

Set in 1964 but written in 1997, Whittington’s play concentrates on a middle-class cover-up as one girl is caught up in the 1960s’ adoption scandal. Mary’s mother takes her to St Saviour’s Church, a maternity home for young unmarried women who “gave in just once”. From here, 19-year-old Mary will eventually return to the family home with her father and local community clueless as to her ordeal.

Amanda Stoodley’s split set is comprised of a dorm with filing cabinets and a laundry separated by a middle office where the matron presides. Captions depict the passing of time and the play’s whole script scrolls on a back screen in sync with the characters speaking, making it all the more clinical when Mary’s mother signs away her baby.

The play is celebrated for the rare opportunity it presents an all-female cast with its six diverse character roles. Mary (Simona Bitmate) and Queenie’s (Crystal Condie) bond celebrates solidarity in the face of class difference while Norma’s (Anna Gray) presence spotlights the often-dubious treatment of pregnant women with disabilities.

Stoodley’s contemporary aesthetic seeks to highlight the continued vulnerability of women across the globe. Jacqui Honess-Martin’s direction has given women a voice allowing them to sing Whittingdon’s original 60s’ soundtrack live on stage, often on a podium to reflect moments of hope, defiance or particular vulnerability.

Celebrating the power of song to express emotion and provide strength and solace, Be My Baby explores parental bonding, feelings of guilt/grief and the ostracised. Whittingdon’s final projected case number and image of an overflowing cupboard of unclaimed cuddly toys are heart-breaking memorials to the experiences of generations of women. A strong cast deliver a powerful and captivating close to an experimental season.

Be My Baby shows at The Leeds Playhouse May 11-June 1st 2019: