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Be My Baby (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Venue: The Lowry
Where: Salford

Northwest based Northface Theatre Company has been pursuing it's mission statement to showcase 'home grown talent' for seven years now. It's latest performance tackles Amanda Whittington's 1998 play about teenage pregnancy, Be My Baby.

It's 1964 and Mary Adams, nineteen years old and pregnant, finds herself delivered into the hands of 'Matron' at an institution for unmarried mothers. Friendships based first on common circumstance and then genuine affection develop with her fellow outcasts as together they face the prospect of giving their babies up for adoption.

The play opens to a relatively bare stage with desk and chairs at one side and metal framed beds on the other. The atmosphere is almost military; the blankets are perfunctory and the lighting is stark. Domestic props such as an ironing board and bucket are brought onto the stage occasionally but otherwise, no set changes are made - the mundanity of the setting contrasting with the socially unusual situation of it's residents. Costumes are similarly without luxury; the girls change only from their shirts and smocks to plain nightdresses, and back again.

Rachel Austin's straight-talking Queenie and Sarah McDonald Hughes' spirited Mary form a believable partnership founded on determination and humour, rather than emotional cliché. Deborah Brian's Matron develops throughout the play as beneath her initially sharp tones, we discover a woman who cares deeply in her role as temporary guardian.

Although lacking variety, a soundtrack of The Ronettes and Helen Shapiro is an effective and constant reminder of the era. Use of The Dixie Cups' Going to the Chapel is particularly witty as the girls sing and dance through their fantasy of a more convention liaison than their own. Despite the frequent bursts of music, this isn't a play that is afraid of silence; as newcomer Mary unpacks her suitcase, the tension is palpable.

There are no revelations here; this is a well-known story and one with an inevitable conclusion, but there is plenty to ponder in the irony of a mother fiercely protecting the interests of her daughter by separating another mother, Mary, from hers.

- Poppy Helm


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