Review: Be My Baby; Colne Dramatic Society

A poignant musical being shown in Colne this week throws light on the outcast women of the sixties, swallowed by shame and swept under darkness.
Brogan Riley, Emily Williamson, Charis Deighton and Cathryn Osborne, taken by Gilly Fontaine-Grist. (s)Brogan Riley, Emily Williamson, Charis Deighton and Cathryn Osborne, taken by Gilly Fontaine-Grist. (s)
Brogan Riley, Emily Williamson, Charis Deighton and Cathryn Osborne, taken by Gilly Fontaine-Grist. (s)

Playwright Amanda Whittington colours the young women of Be My Baby not only with the stains of shame pressed upon them by society - they also radiate with warmth and wit.

Presented by Colne Dramatic Society, the show takes place over two months during the sexual liberation of the Swinging Sixties.

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The production casts light on the depravity of unmarried mothers living in church-sponsored accommodation during pregnancy, before giving their babies up for adoption.

Be My Baby dives into the life of 19 year-old Mary Adams, housed in St Saviour’s CE dormitory and swept along, first by a culture of sugary pop and then into a cleft of darkness by a tidal wave of societal shame surrounding her pregnancy out of wedlock.

The staging was simple and efficiently arranged: the cast peeled back lines of laundry during scene changes to reveal the girls in the privacy of their bedrooms.

This mirrored the play’s peeling of the sanitised skin of society to reveal the secrets and shame carried by the girls and hidden in laundry chores and servitude.

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Cathryn Osborne delivered a stellar performance of Mary’s room-mate Queenie, a working-class girl hardened by realism, wearing it like armour.

Brogan Riley as Dolores bubbled with warmth, nailing the comic edge of her ditsy character while a moving performance was given by Charis Deighton as the anxious Norma.

But it was Emily Williamson in the leading role of Mary who stole the show, offering the right blend of youthful warmth, romantic naivety and anxious awakening for a heart-breaking performance.

Fiona McInerney terrifically handled the internal conflict of the matron of the house, who served as an intersection between societal expectations and bleak reality. Her performance was a cross between humanity and oppression: empathy buried under the weight of realistic thinking, condescension and tradition.

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Susan Mullen as Mary’s mother, Mrs Adams, cast rays of light with her fine comic skill while also capably depicting the character’s anxiety and embarrassment surrounding the stain of her daughter’s pregnancy on the family’s reputation.

In terms of pace, there were one or two scenes that lagged but I’d be clutching at straws to find fault with this moving show.

Thanks for an enjoyable evening must therefore also go to the production team: director Eleanor Jolley; Gordon Ingleby; Jackie Williamson; John Mills; Alan Hargreaves; Nigel Catterall; Beverly McKiernan; Paul Thompson; Ben Fontaine; John Williams; and Linda Midgley.

Whittington strikes a careful balance between light and shade, revealing the bleak reality of a generation of young mothers while vividly reaffirming their identities as individuals.

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Society might have reduced and invalidated these women for failing to live up to gender expectations but the musical allows female complexities to shine brightly.

Colne Dramatic Society and its strong all-female cast should be applauded for skilfully upholding that.

Final performances take place at The Little Theatre, River Street, Colne, tonight and tomorrow, starting at 7-30pm.

Tickets are £7.50 and can be booked via the theatre answerphone on 01282 861424.

The society’s next production in June is Heroes.

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