Be My Baby

LEO PARKER-REES finds himself refreshingly un-nauseated by pregnant teens and 60’s hits.

Be My Baby emma fairhurst faeces Hellie Cranney jess o'driscoll breen marika mckennell martha bennet mary galloway rosie brown

Corpus Playroom, 15th-19th May, 9.30pm, £4-5

Directed by Rosie Brown

[rating: 4/5]

I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of this play. Expecting some trite observations about the life of a pregnant teen in the 60’s, I took the guarantee “to make you laugh and cry” as a challenge. It’ll take more than a few padded stomachs and 60’s hits to do that, I thought. I can watch overbearing matrons turn out to be not so cruel in the end ALL DAY.

It’s great to be proved wrong when you think like that. Sure, there were a few familiar tropes on stage, but that really doesn’t matter in a good play. Director Rosie Brown seems to have resisted the urge to exaggerate the script’s stock characters, and the results are impressive. Matron (Martha Bennett) in particular showed impressive subtlety, rather than falling into the clichéd jolt from cold to kindly.

Things did get started quite slowly, however. The first scene, where Mary (Mary Galloway) is left at the Mother and Baby Home, seemed to drag a little, with perhaps a little too much subtlety in the performances. Neither Mary nor her mother, Mrs. Adams (Emma Fairhurst), gave much impression of the tension that should have kick-started the evening. It is hard to be too critical of performers for not fully conveying undercurrents of emotion, though. Most find currents hard enough.

Once the play got going, it was great. The relationships between the pregnant girls seemed natural and sweet, so when they giggled and splashed each other with water from their laundry buckets it wasn’t the nauseating display one would expect. Instead, it seemed overwhelmingly intimate. Though largely the result of talented actresses, this effect was helped by the fact that the action was all confined to the Home. Just like the girls, we were stuck there.

The stage was used well, with the set left admirably alone throughout. Brown seems to be aware that it’s much easier to ignore a desk in a bedroom for one scene, and beds in an office the next, than it is to ignore stage-hand monkeys dressed in black, stomping about and throwing their metaphorical faeces at all and sundry. I hope she spreads the word.

A few niggles niggled. Norma (Hellie Cranney) gave a strong performance, but towards the end should have been more frantic. The lights, when dimming for an unsettling Lord’s Prayer from Matron, distracted a little from what was otherwise a powerful scene. By the end, the ending of scenes with a Very Significant Line and a blackout started to grate. Worst of all, there were hardly any 60’s hits. I wanted more 60’s hits.

Yet these are just the concerns of a reviewer trying to be balanced. That’s not what you’ll be thinking about when you leave the Playroom. You’ll be remembering Dolores’ (Jess O’Driscoll Breen) chillingly nonchalant description of rape. Or the fear and pain in Norma’s crying. Or the touching glimpses of insecurity from Queenie (Marika McKennell). I know you’re all busy – I had to revise once, too – but this is a show you should make time to see. Just don’t blame me when you have Chapel of Love stuck in your head for the next few days.