PITY the unmarried mother of yesteryear.In those pre-Pill days, an unwanted pregnancy was a short-cut to social exclusion and while the 60s produced a swinging generation, having a child out of wedlock was still considered shameful in the lives of ordinary folk
There were few choices, as Amanda Whittington’s superb Be My Baby demonstrates in its current run at Derby Theatre.
Living ‘over the brush’ was still taboo so it was either a shotgun wedding, birth within the family with the child passed off as the young mum’s sister, an illegal abortion or being packed off from the public gaze to a mother and baby home for the final months of pregnancy.
During this time, they would earn their keep and afterwards the baby would be put up for adoption. Then the young girl could return to normal life – or what passed for normal after such a traumatic time – with nobody any the wiser.
Such homes, which operated until the 1970s, were generally run by the Church, places being booked after a discreet word with the local vicar and the GP.
Amanda Whittington found it a perfect idea for drama – “a group of characters who don’t know each other thrown together in a crisis situation. And dramatically there’s no bigger story than a mother having to give up her baby.”
The play is set in 1964 at St Saviour’s, where Mary Adams, 19, in love and as her mother has just discovered, seven months pregnant, arrives with her suitcases, a Dansette record player and a stack of 45s. Mary’s middle class mother didn’t get her into grammar school for nothing and the shame must be hidden, even from her father.
Now the action is focused on Mary and three other young women, the scenes shifting betwixt the matron’s office, the laundry where the girls are put to work and the dormitory Mary shares with Queenie, who has had to take most of what life can throw at her during her 16 years.
They find solace in camaraderie, a type of black humour, and the sounds of the Sixties in Mary’s record collection, notably the Supremes, The Ronettes and Dusty Springfield. It is a fine, moving production, in which the cast excel, notably Jessica Clark as Mary, Michelle Tate as Queenie and Tanya Myers as the matron.
Amanda Whittington makes no judgments but presents the issue as it was, with an acknowledgement that although the problems posed by teenage motherhood have not disappeared, the opprobrium associated with the past has long gone.
A compelling evening’s drama in a play which is at Derby Theatre until May 21.