Review: Be My Baby

Louise Ashwell 16 May 2012

Corpus Mainshow, 7pm, until Sat 19th May

3/5

I so wanted to love this play. Teenage pregnancy; a conflict of classes; and to top it all off, a soundtrack of 1960s hits: taken together, the exact opposite of the po-faced and, let’s face it, more than a little pretentious productions that students can occasionally encounter on Cambridge’s am-dram scene – and none the worse for it. Yet whilst its separate components promised much, this reviewer was left feeling a little short-changed by the whole.

Set in the mid-sixties, ‘Be My Baby’ follows nineteen-year-old Mary: unmarried and pregnant, she is admitted to a religious home to hush up her ‘disgrace’ until she gives birth. The family’s social standing saved, and her father oblivious to his daughter’s condition, it seems to her mother like the perfect solution. Yet as Mary realises the implications of her admittance, she comes to question this decision. The play follows her and the other girls admitted as they endure an overbearing matron who plays up the religious implications of their sin, but also make friendships. Although Mary, the product of a strait-laced middle-class existence, encounters girls from rather different walks of life, they emerge united through common experiences of hurt by their partners and families, but also their utter naivety as regards human relationships and the experience of birth itself.

Undoubtedly, then, some difficult issues to deal with, and a desire to add a little lightness would have been understandable. My gripe, however, is that the play’s most dramatic episodes were not dealt with in the depth they deserved, foregoing the extra layer of darkness to the play which is undoubtedly present in its script. Amidst the gossip of boyfriends and first dates, there is an implication of a rape, and an intriguing hint of darkness under the candyfloss-sweetness of the Ronettes and co. Yet this was brushed over as quickly as it had been mentioned. I felt too much that the character of the matron could have been developed rather more. Again, back-stories crop up out of nowhere which are never followed through; in particular, the death of a loved one which could explain her rather brusque demeanour towards the girls receives no inspection.

That said, the sweetness and light of the play is brought through most effectively. The dynamic between all the girls works well, and the partnership of Mary, featuring a mature performance by Mary Galloway, and Marika McKennell’s excellent Queenie, the girl from the other side of the tracks, (whose Scouse accent incidentally, as remarked by a plummy-voiced audience member in front of me, was simply ‘faaaaarbulous’), proved very touching.

If this play felt at times a little stilted, and the scenes uncomfortably distinct from each other, then perhaps this was as much due to insufficient rehearsal time as anything else. An audience limited in numbers did not help. Yet as much as I want to forgive these flaws, there is simply no denying that if the ADC’s 2010 production of this play was reviewed in this very newspaper as ‘a must-see for anyone who loves true, honest theatre’, then this production still needs a bit of work before attaining those heady heights.

Louise Ashwell