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Be My Baby review

Leeds Playhouse closes a season with a tender play exploring the mother-baby homes of the Sixties.

Simona Bitmate (Mary) and Crystal Condie (Queenie) in Be My Baby. Credit Anthony Robling.
Simona Bitmate (Mary) and Crystal Condie (Queenie) in Be My Baby. Credit Anthony Robling.

Following the all-male production of Around the World in 80 Days, Leeds Playhouse closes its pop-up season with their first all-female production — interrogating the rights and welfare of young single mothers in the early Sixties.

Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby is a swift one-act study of the challenges facing teenage mothers in the mid-century, when many faced exile to mother-baby homes to give birth — and forcibly give away — their children. It’s a story many families have hidden within their own histories, yet perhaps due to the perceived shame of the period, remains a story often untold today.

Realised within a nimble 80 minutes, the script isn’t overburdened with dramatic incident, choosing to study its subject through a series of gently-paced conversations and collusions. Brief musical interludes inspired by the hits of Dusty Springfield steer the piece with a period flavour, whilst an angular set with harsh lines gives out an uneasy and unfriendly mood. Foremost, this is a play primarily exploring feelings, sensations and instinct above plot.

Anna Gray as Norma in Be My Baby. Credit: Anthony Robling.

Anna Gray as Norma in Be My Baby. Credit: Anthony Robling.

The final outing for the women of the Playhouse Ensemble is a bold one, with dependably charged performances delivered by Tessa Parr and Jo Mousley. Simona Bitmate hands over a sensitively complex performance as Mary, whilst Crystal Condie provides an energetic counter as Queenie. Anna Gray expands the ensemble in a tender portrayal as Norma, another young mother lost within the system.

In a standout performance, Susan Twist delivers an impeccably acerbic Matron, conveying so much so effortlessly. There’s a remarkable clarity and purity to Twist’s diction, which makes you want to listen to her for hours. Even the most arbitrary lines take on a new significance through her delivery. This is another elegant, scene-stealing demonstration from a run of memorable characterisations this year.

Jo Mousley as Mrs Adams and Susan Twist as Matron. Credit: Anthony Robling.

Jo Mousley as Mrs Adams and Susan Twist as Matron. Credit: Anthony Robling.

Keeping things simple, Jacqui Honess-Martin’s direction embraces a playful use of domestic props to expand the show’s scope. An enterprising manipulation of a bedsheet into a new-born baby is well devised, and literally thrown to the wind as it unfolds back into nothing. It’s a smart visualisation of how illegitimate newborns at the time were quickly swept away, almost invisibly.

Be My Baby is a pointed, poignant and lean piece of theatre which reappraises recent history through a compassionate lens. Whilst not particularly heavy on story, it’s well-resourced in character and feeling, providing a heartfelt insight into the dilemma so many young women faced in the recent past. A gently revealing and thoughtful play with plenty to unpack.

Cast: Susan Twist, Simona Bitmate, Crystal Condie, Jo Mousley, Anna Gray, Tessa Parr. Director: Jacqui Honess-Martin Writer: Amanda Whittington Theatre: Leeds Playhouse Running time: 80 minutes Dates: Saturday 11th May – Saturday 1st June 2019.

Ticketsleedsplayhouse.org.uk or call Box Office on 0113 213 7700

 

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