Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington, The Gallery Players at Sir John Mills until October 27.

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This is a show that swings to the pop songs of the Sixties, but it’s no sweet little musical of the time. Behind a façade of light-hearted humour and melody there lurks a literally bloody tale of heartbreak.

With today’s laid-back attitude to single mothers it’s hard to imagine just how sharp was the shame fifty years ago of being in the family way - and unwed. The Pill was yet to come, abortion a nasty back-street business and Whittington’s play unveils a shocking world of secrets and deceit.

We discover that there is very little people will not say or do in order to conceal the scandal of an unmarried girl’s pregnancy. Especially ‘nice’ people and they don’t come nicer than Mary Adams, the bright grammar school product who is expecting her medical student boyfriend’s baby.

Mrs Adams, her up-market mother (Shelley Clempson), mortified by the potential stain to the family status, has hidden her only daughter away in St Saviour’s Mother and Baby Home in the north of England where she joins three other girls from different backgrounds but in a similar plight.

There’s Queenie (Rachel Lucock), the hard nut with a buried soft centre, Norma (Amy Restall), a fun-loving girl who has terrifying lessons to learn, and naïve, kind-hearted Dolores (Laura Lucock) who just loves music.

And it’s the music, on an old Dansette record player and the radio, that helps them through their tough toil in the kitchen and the laundry, doing penance and “working off the shame of their situation” – lots of top Sixties pops that are cleverly and effectively slotted into the script.

The girls laugh and joke and sing along with the Ronettes and Be My Baby and they dance to The Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups, the latter carrying its subliminal message about romance and marriage as the girls slowly wrestle with the reality of why they are at St Saviour’s - to give up their babies for adoption.

Mary (Laura Bishop), intelligent and certain that truth can always find a way of winning, has some great battles with the strict but understanding matron (Linda Wooldridge) and features in a scene with blood-soaked sheets which is a frightening core to this strongly-acted piece by Gallery Players.

David Henshall.

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