Ladybaby: The 'mother-daughter rom com' that could be Scotland's next big comedy

An unexpected reunion between a woman and the daughter she gave up for adoption after giving birth at the age of 15 may sound more like a plot from a soap opera than a recipe for a new Scottish comedy series.

Amy Manson and Mirren Mack are the stars of Ladybaby: Robert Pereira Hind

But writer Kirstie Swain and the stars of her new show are convinced all the ingredients are there for Ladybaby to run and run after working on a pilot for the BBC.

Swain has plotted out a six-part series for a story that started life five years ago on her parents’ kitchen table.

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Described by Swain as a “mother-and-daughter rom com”, it was originally inspired by the pressures women in their 30s come under to have children.

The writer, who had a baby herself months before filming began, hopes a full series will become an exploration of motherhood.

Ladybaby focuses on how a mother and daughter initially clash when they are reunited and realise how different their lives are – before they begin to form an unlikely bond.

The series was commissioned by BBC3 at the beginning of last year, then put on hold for more than a year by the pandemic.

Available now on BBC Three and the BBC iPlayer, it features a host of Scotland’s leading screen talents, including two leads actresses who had never played comedic roles before.

Phyllis Logan, Amy Manson and Ford Kiernan star in Ladybaby. Picture: Robert Pereira Hind

Amy Manson has swapped her role as a supernatural serial killer in the HBO series The Nevers to play 36-year-old Suzi, a “woman child trapped in an unremarkable life” as a would-be animal artist and a tour guide for an open-top bus company in Edinburgh.

Mirren Mack, who shot to fame last year starring in the gripping BBC surrogacy drama The Nest, plays Kate, “an old lady trapped in a young woman's body”, and the daughter Suzi gave up for for adoption when she was 15, who is pursuing a career in medicine.

Swain said: "When I came up with the idea for Ladybaby I was in my early 30s and it felt like that everyone was like ‘have a baby now, please. Why aren’t you pregnant? Are you going to get pregnant?’

“People are all over your womb. They’ve all got an opinion on it.

Mirren Mack plays Kate in Ladybaby. Picture: Robert Pereira Hind

"I actually thought my life would have been so much easier if I had had a teenage pregnancy and had a baby.

“I also wanted to write a rom com between a mother and a daughter who are people they shouldn’t be.”

Swain, a graduate of Screen Academy Scotland at Edinburgh Napier University, had a sitcom pilot shortlisted for a BBC competition more than a decade ago. She started performing stand-up during the long “gestation” of Ladybaby, which production company Kudos snapped up and secured a BBC commission.

She said: “I’ve always loved comedy – I devoured Chewin’ the Fat, Father Ted and Smack the Pony when I was growing up.

Hannah Stanbridge and Amy Manson play Alana and Suzie in Ladybaby: Robert Pereira Hind

"My sisters are I used to quote them all the time and recreate them up in the attic. Comedy was my bonding thing with friends when we were growing up.

“I’ve always loved writing comedy. It cracks open some subjects and tackles them in a way that you can’t really do in drama without being earnest and issue-y.

“I sat down at Christmas-time at my mum and dad’s kitchen table and wrote a spec script for Ladybaby while I was a bit p***ed on cherry. My mum kept coming to top me up.

“I wasn’t writing it for anything or anyone, so I was able to be quite free with it. I went away for new year with some actor friends and we did a mass read-through. I sent it to my agent, who really liked it.

“I wanted Suzi to be a bit of a woman-child who doesn’t really have it together. She’s kind of stuck in this permanent adolescence, which I feel I was stuck in.

"If I didn’t have writing I would be Suzi. I feel like it tethers me. She is quite untethered.

Phyllis Logan and Ford Kiernan play Suze's parents in Ladybaby. Picture: Robert Pereira Hind

“She is still living like a teenager in her best friend’s spare room. She’s a bit of a limpet – attaching herself to anything that will keep her afloat, whether that’s best friend or her mum and dad.”

Other key characters include Sheena and Alec, Suzi’s parents, who are played by Phyllis Logan and Ford Kiernan as Alec, and Suzie’s best friend and new mother Alana, played by Hanna Stanbridge. Outlander star Grant O’Rourke and former Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Richard Gadd also appear, as a DJ Suzi has been sleeping with and her bus tour company colleague respectively.

Swain said: “I’m so proud that we managed to get such a Scottish cast. You see some things that are set in Scotland and there are sometimes just one or two Scottish people in it.

“We don’t hear enough Scottish voices and then we get told there’s not enough Scottish talent. Of course there is – we’ve just an entire cast that’s predominantly Scottish and they’re all amazing talented people who should be working all the time.

“It’s really exciting seeing and hearing Scottish female voices on television. When I was growing up, as much as I loved Chewin’ the Fat, there was Karen Dunbar and that was it. It feels that women are allowed to be flawed on television now.”

Manson, 36, was on a break from filming The Nevers when the opportunity to play Suzi came up.

She said: “I felt the script was quirky, humorous and sad, and also full of love, hope and anxieties. I really fell in love with Suzi, the relationship between Suzi and Kate, and Suzi’s journey.

“Suzi suppresses the trauma of the past with an exterior of ‘I’m fine and fine’. She is residing in this deep sadness at her lack of personal fulfilment.

"Suddenly she has to face up to her own failure and see someone she gave birth to tackle life in a way she hasn’t. She wants to make amends and also figure out who this woman is.

‘Suzi has loads of energy and is all heart. I hope that’s what people will key into and love.”

Mack, 23, said: "I felt like we just dipped our toes into the characters and storylines. We’ve only just begun exploring and playing with them. I would love to see what happens to their story.

"Kate is very set in her ways. She likes plans and likes to have everything organised and structured. The chaotic and wonderful energy of Suzi is the exact opposite.

"They both need a bit of what the other has to find that balance. But the obstacle is themselves.”

Both Mack and Manson admit it was a challenge to take on comedy roles for the first time.

Mack, who also starred in the Netflix series Sex Education, said: "I had never done comedy before, so I was really nervous about it.

“You want people to enjoy it as much as when you read it on the page.

"You can’t play the funniness of it, you just have to play the truth of the writing, the bizarre situations and the really intense characters.

"I thought I had no idea how to be funny so I just tried to play the truth of this person meeting her mum for the first time and hope for the best.”

Manson said: "It’s a story about relationships, someone coming to terms with something awful in their life and holding a mirror up to herself through a lot of laughs and a lot of tears. It is really humorous but really heartfelt at the same time.

“It was a challenge to do comedy for the first time. It was one of the few jobs I’ve come into thinking ‘oh my god, can I do this?’

"The severity of Suzi’s situation is huge – it’s a big weight having to give away a big part of yourself, being told that you are bad and an awful human being, and to have to sit with that and not even have an outlet to share her insecurities, because it’s not talked about and is thrown under the carpet. No wonder she acts the way she does. I think I’d do the same.

“I think we’ve got somewhere to go within the series. Kirstie has written six episode so it will be really nice to see where Kate and Suzi go.

“Mirren was just a dream to work with. It always makes it when you’re working with someone who raises the bar.”

Swain said: “I know exactly what’s going to happen in the series and where I want to take the characters.

“It would see Kate and Suzi come closer together and their relationship develop at the expense of everyone else.

"We all just have to wait now, but as I’m writer I’m used to that. I’m fueled by hope and coffee.

“It could definitely go on for more than one series. Once you’re invested in the characters they can go anywhere really.

"There are so many things I want to explore about motherhood. It feels like a great vehicle to explore all the different versions of it. It feels to me that it could go on and on.”

Amy Manson and Richard Gadd play Suzi and Harry in Ladybaby. Picture: Robert Pereira Hind
Phyllis Logan and Ford Kiernan play Suze's parents in Ladybaby. Picture: Robert Pereira Hind
Kirstie Swain is the creator of Ladybaby.
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