Review: ‘Be My Baby’ at the Leeds Playhouse

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  • Adam Bruce, United Kingdom Critic

The Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Season is almost drawing to a close, and as the theatre moves towards the completion of its major refurbishment over the coming summer months, it is welcoming audiences for its final Pop-Up production. Featuring the female members of the Leeds Playhouse Ensemble, and produced in association with Mind the Gap, Amanda Whittington’s play ‘Be My Baby’ is the final major play of the theatre’s current season.

Whittington’s play, since its debut in 1997, has proven to be a popular text that has received many revivals and a place on many school curriculums. Set in 1964, ‘Be My Baby’ takes place in a home set up for unmarried pregnant girls, and follows the story of nineteen-year-old Mary (Simona Bitmate) as she arrives at the home whilst being seven months pregnant. During her stay, she bonds with Queenie (Crystal Condie), Dolores (Tessa Parr) and Norma (Anna Gray), all under the watchful eye of the home’s Matron (Susan Twist) and living with the expectations of her mother Mrs Adams (Jo Mousley) hanging over her.

Under the streamlined direction of Jacqui Honess-Martin, Whittington’s play becomes a dynamic and engaging piece of theatre that efficiently grapples with the timeless themes of teenage pregnancy and society’s views upon it, whilst warmly touching on the importance of friendship. The inclusion of live music sung by the cast, featuring popular songs from the 1960s, adds an extra layer of vitality and thematic unity to the piece, buttressing the dynamic performances with a strong sense of atmospheric presence.

The main source of this atmospheric presence, however, masterfully comes from the portrayals of the ensemble; each one is delivered with sensitivity and clarity, carefully constructing a tapestry of stories that come together to take the audience on a moving, poignant journey. The characterisation across the board is accomplished and detailed, and every member of the ensemble has crafted an organic and truthful representation of several individuals trying to find their way amidst a backdrop brimming with societal pressure and consequences. These portrayals, along with all of the others that have taken place in the Pop-Up Theatre, will undoubtedly linger not only in the minds of all the audiences that come to see the piece, but also in the foundations of the soon to be completed theatre.

In addition to the powerful performances, the other knock-out feature of ‘Be My Baby’ has to be its set design. Amanda Stoodley’s minimalist concept includes only a few pieces of furniture that capture the essence of the play-world’s temporal setting, and places emphasis on an overarching sense of bleak reality: grey concrete fills the space, perhaps a nod to the rise in the architectural movement of the time period and its subsequent connotations of uniformity. The stark lack of colour, with only Tim Skelly’s lighting design incorporating a unifying collection of orange lights in certain areas to perhaps reflect on the unity of the girls, is a beautiful contrast to the vibrance present in the characters. As a result, their performances are given even more depth and power, and are a reflection of the harmonious relationship between every aspect of Honess-Martin’s directorial vision.

I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone by; it seems like only yesterday that the Playhouse announced it was opening up a temporary Pop-Up Space and appointing an ensemble of performers to work on its upcoming plays. Whatever Pop-Up production you’ve seen in the last several months, make sure you come and see this final offering, as ‘Be My Baby’ is a warm, engaging and vital piece of theatre that will leave you not only touched, but excited for the theatre’s upcoming adventures later this year.

 

‘Be My Baby is at the Leeds Playhouse until 1st June. For more information, tickets and a full cast and creative list, visit: https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/be-my-baby/