★★★★ | My Mother Said I Never ShouldCREDIT: Savannah Photographic
My Mother Said I Never Should is an award winning debut play written when the author was just 25. It was chosen as one of the most significant plays of the twentieth century by the National Theatre and is, apparently, one of the most performed plays by a female artist. Yet, strangely it hasn’t been seen on a major London stage since the 1980s. Maybe plays about the relationships between women still don’t have commercial appeal? It’s a shame that it’s not been revived before but director Paul Robinson and producer Tara Finney have more than rectified that and have resurrected a thing of beauty and power.
The stage is almost bare with stark white backgrounds and hints of furniture. Piles of television sets suggest eras and portions of scenery, helping to frame the action in the non-linear structure. The four women start the play as sinister schoolgirls (which could be excruciating to watch but is actually cleverly done), chanting rhymes and plotting to kill mummy. The play then evolves into a series of scenes from the lives of four generations of women in Manchester helped by subtle lighting and sound changes.
It’s a standard potboiler plot that could be found in a fat Catherine Cookson novel or a television soap opera: difficult marriages, terminal illness and illegitimate children. The script is cleverly written, though, and although the storyline veers towards mawkish sentimentality at times it always steers back and feels lifelike and moving rather than trite.
Maureen Lipman is magnificent as Doris, a fearsome mother, grandmother and great grandmother. There’s depth to her character as she progresses through stern 1940s mother in the Blitz through to a more benign and charitable but still waspish old lady sunbathing with her pop socks off in the garden. She delivers her lines with skill and inhabits the role beautifully. Caroline Faber is convincing as her at times put upon daughter. Katie Brayben (who played Carole King to critical acclaim in the musical Beautiful) portrays Jackie with skilful restraint and Serena Manteghi is suitably boorish yet ultimately wise as Rosie.
The play will resonant with a wide variety of people. Provided you had a mother/grandmother/aunt/sister or daughter then it’ll be hard not to reflect on your own experiences whilst you watch this. The yearning to be loved and approved of is innate and powerful. Don’t expect a tragic, visceral weepy though. There are so many comedic moments and killer lines that the blow of the deeper hurts being presented is softened suitably.
This is a strong production with a skilled cast and high production values and is a welcome return to form for The St James Theatre. Highly recommended entertainment with underlying resonance.
My Mother Said I Never Should plays at the St James Theatre, Victoria until 21st May 2016, 0844 264 2140
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.