It is the 60's, and the Ronettes are singing By My Baby on the record-player. The scene is that of a Christian 'home', where four pregnant teenage girls are living temporarily; a matron looks over them as they prepare themselves, with little knowledge and outlook, to deliver their babies and put them up for adoption. This is a small-scale production, but the young cast deliver a mature and moving performance.
The play begins with the arrival of Mary, a nineteen-year-old who is seven months along. Her interactions with the other girls – Norma, Dolores, and Queenie – set the scene for the events to follow. The different characters of the girls are brought to light through a nuanced script. There are some light-hearted moments as the girls read the process of birthing from a biological journal, struggling with the technical terms: 'foe-ayyy-tus', one of them drawls, illustrating just how naive and young they are.
Interactions with the matron, meanwhile, are an exercise in hearing what society at the time thought of 'such mothers'. The question ‘What does a child really need?’ is answered by ‘Milk, toys, nappies, a father’. This is still an era when no-one will employ or even want to be acquainted with a single mother and child, yet the free-thinkers and youngsters of the 60s are ending up pregnant – sometimes by married men and abusers.
The four stories weave in and out of one another, and the narrative is fast-paced and interesting, but the production lacks a little finesse. Some of the scene changes are abrupt, and when Mary gives birth, you can see someone come on stage and hand her the baby. A few scenes might have done with more intensity as well, particularly when dealing with difficult topics such as sexual abuse.
But given the fact that this is a brand-new theatre company, with a notably young cast, Panic In The Streets Theatre have done extremely well. The production is well-scripted and, a couple of dips notwithstanding, well-acted. The theme is interesting, bringing out a contrast between the ‘liberation' of the 60s and the prejudice still surrounding unwed mothers. This is a group whose future productions will be worth looking forward to.