Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review My Mother Said I Never Should

We at Trafficlighttheatregoer Towers are pleased to welcome Francis Beckett, author, journalist, playwright, contemporary historian - and now guest reviewer on trafficlighttheatregoer.com :) Find out more about the newest addition to our team at http://www.francisbeckett.co.uk/

My Mother Said I Never Should
By Charlotte Keatley

A Woman's Century

Four generations of women, the eldest a baby before the First World War and the youngest starting life almost three-quarters of a century later. Each does the best she can for her daughter and herself  - within the limitations imposed on them by the society into which they are born.

This beautifully-observed and carefully-researched piece records, without comment, the decisions they make. Decisions which sometimes appear incomprehensible only a few years later, yet at the time they seem like the only responsible paths to follow.

Despite earnest attempts in the programme to bill My Mother Said I Never Should as a worthy feminist piece, the play, set in Manchester, Oldham and London, is far more interesting. As much an account of a changing yet still cruel society by a woman playwright who understands that inequality and unfairness, while certainly penalizing and punishing women, punishes men too.

Written more than 30 years ago in 1985 when Charlotte Keatley was just 25, it still comes alive as if fresh-minted with the magnificent performances at the St James Theatre in Victoria.

There’s the always wonderful Maureen Lipman as Doris – no one in the world does a cantankerous mother better. Alongside her, Katie Brayben as granddaughter Jackie, Caroline Faber as Jackie's mother Margaret and Serena Manteghi's great granddaughter Rosie. All young performers who match Lipman's presence and professionalism.

It’s a testing play for actors who must age purely physically, as any gap is too short to allow for the application of make up. Yet the audience easily recognizes when, for example, Katie Brayben's Jackie is four, 14 or 40 years old before she even opens her mouth.

It may not be a perfect play, nor for that matter a perfect production. At the start, director Paul Robinson introduces some abstruse movement and stamping of feet which made me fear that the evening was going to sink under the weight of mysterious symbolism. 

Occasionally the odd line is a little too deliberately trying to be a tearjerker – “You’ll never call me Mummy,” cries Jackie as she hands over her baby.

But at these moments, the production always manages to recover its equilibrium quickly and this absorbing, sometimes very funny, evening in the theatre easily earns a green light.

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