Saturday, 30 March 2013

'Be My Baby': A Director's View

Director in Residence John-Paul McCrohon reflects upon the experience of directing 'Be My Baby'

(photograph by Rob Porter)
In the final week of term, a large cast of Year 9 and 10 students took to the stage in a challenging theatrical double bill that was comprised of Amanda Whittington’s ‘Be My Baby’ and David Hare’s ‘South Downs’. Both plays called for a naturalistic style of playing whilst also posing further challenges that were unique to each piece; the thematic link was their setting of the early 1960s and the young outsiders at their core.
As Tim MacBain (our Year 13 ‘Guest Star’!) has already written very eloquently about being part of ‘South Downs’, it has fallen to me to forward some words on the ‘Be My Baby’ experience …
‘Be My Baby’ is widely studied as a GCSE and A Level text and has received several major productions since its 1998 debut. Set in 1964, it follows the stories of four young women who have fallen pregnant out of wedlock and been sent to one of the ‘Mother and Baby’ homes that operated at this time.
(photograph by Rob Porter)
After a very well-attended audition, I was fortunate enough to find the ten superb performers that would make up this all-female cast and go on the considerable journey that working on this play would represent.
From the very beginning of the process, it was clear that this would be a thoroughly rewarding project to work on as all the girls involved committed wholeheartedly to bringing the nuances out in their respective characters, gradually submerging themselves into their roles to the point that the lines between onstage and offstage camaraderie was blurred in the best possible way.
In addition to taking on such a mature piece of work, many practical challenges were met … these included working in a ‘thrust’ stage set-up, operating an authentic 1960s dansette record player and donning prosthetic pregnancies!
The girl-group music of the period is extremely important in the play as it not only provides the escape from reality that the girls sorely require but comments and counterpoints on the action and themes of the piece. For this production, I decided to bring the music even further to the fore by using four female singer/dancers alongside a live band … and I am extremely grateful also to Gemma Williams for her choreography and to Mr Gladstone and his Year 10 musicians who contributed so vitally to the piece.
Watching the piece develop was a privilege and seeing the ladies face perhaps their toughest audience of Year 9 peers on the day before giving a triumphant, rounded and professional performance in the evening to a packed house was a true delight.
Neither play would have been possible without the tireless work of Emily Bustard, who assembled props, set and people with great aplomb, ably assisted by her two stage managers – Dodo Charles and Jack O’Leary.
The two plays were a stunning representation of the sheer standard of dramatic talent on display at PGS as well as a shining example of how hard-working, dedicated and charming the school’s students are. I feel fortunate to have worked with all those involved and look forward immensely to having further opportunities to do so.

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