Review: Baby, What Blessings By Siofra Dromgoole
By Anna Jeavons
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mindshare is a creative community and online mental health publication. Reflections are by mindshare writers with lived experience of mental illness, specifically critiquing through a mental health lens. Content may contain triggering themes.
“Until I’ve experienced something, I don’t believe it.”
Baby, What Blessings is a monologue written by UK playwright Siofra Dromgoole, in which a white protagonist reflects on a teenage relationship with a black partner. Billie, the narrator, is infatuous, naive, entitled. The man she describes in both past and present tense, Amal, is cool, quiet, serious.
Whether a choice by the artist or the venue (atmospheric Black Box Theatres in Adelaide Botanic Garden), I was pleased to hear the usher warn the audience that Baby What Blessings contains content related to mental health, self harm, and suicide. It is a courtesy many forget.
Billie is played by South Australian actor Katherine Sortini, of Deus Ex Femina, with the production directed by Kidaan Zelleke. Katherine is engaging throughout, her portrayal of Billie both charismatic and infuriating. The dramatic flair that she injects feels intentional, not cringeworthy.
From what Billie says and does not say, we slowly learn that Amal’s coolness—his quietness, his seriousness—is pain. Due to a careful and clever script, Billie is able to communicate to the audience Amal’s sense of isolation without yet fully demonstrating an understanding of it herself. We hear how Amal’s difficulties with communication and his frustrations at a white-centric world are exacerbated in his relationship with this self-involved white woman.
Billie is retrospectively remorseful, empathetic, and self-aware. She does reflect on how her behaviour and lack of awareness impacted on Amal’s wellbeing. She thought she wanted to be a contributing factor in his journey. She wanted to be his light, his love, his reason to live. (It’s audacious, isn’t it? To expect someone to want to live for you when they don’t even want to live for themselves.)
The lesson Billie takes away from all this, and the lesson I do too—is about listening. It is hard to believe something when we haven’t experienced it: whether depression, overwhelming loneliness, loss of hope, or ongoing experiences of racism in “progressive” spaces.
But that’s why we have stories, and why they are so crucial.
Here it is important to address that conversations around racism and mental health should not be led by white, neurotypical storytellers. Is there a reason that Billie’s perspective is being told under glowing lights in a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre? I wonder what Amal thinks of Baby, What Blessings?
That said, the lived experiences of loved ones can be a powerful tool for education and awareness raising. And I don’t think this story is asking for more airtime than it deserves. Presented without condescension, and through the palatable lens of someone who is young, and learning, Baby, What Blessings is trying to point to a better way.
Lastly, I love that this production highlights the importance of listening to silences, as well as words. I personally ask for help at the drop of a hat, but many people don’t—particularly men who have been taught to keep their suffering to themselves. There is a lot of shame and stigma attached to not being okay and people are dying because of it, their silences consuming them.
Stories can inform us, but we must also advocate for more services and supports—for all identities and communities.
Four stars for Baby, What Blessings.