First All-Female Cast at Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up theatre
Leeds Playhouse is in rehearsal for the final production of its critically acclaimed Pop-Up season.
Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby sees the women of the Ensemble Company perform together for the first time along with new cast member, Mind the Gap’s Anna Gray.
Set in a maternity home for young, unmarried women who have ‘made one mistake’, Jacqui Honess-Martin directs this moving story with warmth and humour.
19-year old Mary is seven months pregnant when her mother delivers her into the charge of St Saviours. As Mary, Dolores, Queenie and Norma bond over records and romance, they begin to understand what it means to give their children to the Welfare Service and Mary realises she must fight to take her baby home.
“Be My Baby is a brilliant play and one of few all-female scripts with a strong narrative for young women,” says Director Jacqui Honess-Martin. “It was written in the 90s about the 60s and yet is still highly relevant today; it’s only 60 years since women were given access to the legal rights that curbed the practices shown in the play, but one only has to look at current politics in Ireland and the US to see how fragile those rights are, and that this production isn’t simply a piece of history.”
“There are two groups of women in the UK for whom the issues of this play are still shockingly relevant; refugees and asylum seekers have appallingly high maternal and infant mortality rates as there are barriers to them accessing even basic maternal care in the UK and learning-disabled mothers – over 90% of who will have their baby taken into care.
“I’m proud to work in a theatre of sanctuary – a theatre committed to being a place of safety for refugees and asylum seekers – and working with Anna Gray to bring the experience of learning disabled women into our rehearsal room and to audiences.”
Anna Gray takes the role of Norma. The piece was not written for a person with learning disabilities which is a key point for Jacqui.
“People with learning disabilities are a part of our society and yet are under-represented on stage and in television and film. Mind the Gap Theatre Company have championed learning disability arts for 30 years and do incredible work. We have worked closely with them on many initiatives and projects and I was delighted to find Anna through this collaboration. She’s a brilliant actor, and in casting her we highlight the contemporary approach to Be My Baby.”
Whilst there are nods to the 1960s by use of key props and snippets of song, Jacqui and the creative team have shaped a piece that comes without an era thus opting for an unsentimental approach. The set is stark, the costumes unspecific in fashion, and the piece is fully captioned.
“I want audiences to see the history, think about the women who were forced to give up their children, think about all the consequences from the beliefs of the time, consider why it wasn’t questioned, and recognise that the structure that enabled these things to take place are still in place today,” Jacqui concludes.
Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining said: “We have brought together a fantastic team of creatives to tell this important story. Directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin, whose wonderful production of Blackthorn featured in our Pop-Up season last year, I’m also thrilled to welcome Anna Gray from Mind the Gap – an innovative West Yorkshire company who have done a huge amount to provide opportunities for performers with learning disabilities and to put learning disabled peoples’ experiences centre stage.
“It has been an extraordinary year in our Pop-Up theatre, and Be My Baby is a great way to close the season. I want to take the opportunity to thank our audiences and funders for their unwavering support through the redevelopment year and look forward to welcoming everyone to the new theatre when we fully re-open in the autumn.”
The female Ensemble Company comprises of Tessa Parr fresh from her role in the critically acclaimed Hamlet, Anna Gray as Norma, Jo Mousley as Mrs Adams, Crystal Condie as Queenie, Simona Bitmate as Mary and Susan Twist as Matron.
Be My Baby plays in Leeds Playhouse’s Pop-Up theatre, in association with SOYO Leeds, from 11 May – 1 June.Click here for more info and to book for Be My Baby