My Mother Said I Never Should, St. James Theatre

Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie are four generations of the same family. They often fight, but they’re always there for each other. Though they each grew up in a distinct era and often misunderstand the others’ world views, there’s a lot of love in the baggage they carry. These women that playwright Charlotte Keatley created are passionate, feisty and reflect society’s views of women from the 1930s through the 1980s. Though there’s been inevitable progress in women’s rights, Keatley’s script shows how agonisingly slow it’s been. Excellent performances by the ensemble cast of four and a decade-spanning politically commentary make My Mother Said I Never Should a relevant, fun and poignant production that, even though written in the 1980s, still holds important messages about womanhood.

Doris (Maureen Lipman) is the formidable matriarch of the family who always says exactly what she thinks and has little patience for frivolity. Lipman’s dry comedy is impeccably timed with delightful results. Her uptight daughter Margaret (Caroline Faber) is a great foil, ferociously protective of her punky, energetic granddaughter Rosie (Serena Manteghi), who she’s raising as her own so her scatty daughter Jackie (Katie Brayben) doesn’t have to give up her gallery-owning dreams. As time passes and each woman navigates love and heartbreak, we see a wonderful array of strength, vulnerability and commitment from the cast to these women. This tight knit family are wholly believable as they power through the trials and tribulations of growing up as the second sex.

Keatley’s script, though structurally groundbreaking at the time it was written, has less shock value now but the non-linear, disconnected scenes of female children playing have as much of an impact as the realistic family’s story. Girls playing at casting “spells” to kill their mummies and regarding motherhood as an inevitable part of life is still powerful social commentary today. Though these scenes decrease in frequency as the family’s story takes shape, they are more directly powerful and disturbing. That’s not to say the majority of the script isn’t good – it’s great, with well-defined characters and clear linguistic distinction between the four.

Signe Beckmann’s wintry set of white, blues and greys is a cold but striking backdrop to the story. Old fashioned TV sets display dates and locations as well as historical footage to create a greater context around the play’s microcosm. It’s rather clinical, but doesn’t distract from the action. It gives director Paul Robinson plenty of freedom to use the space as he sees fit and effortlessly transition between Keatley’s eras.

This powerfully moving play showcases stellar performances and writing that’s surprising relevant today. It’s a potent reminder that whilst there has been progress in women’s rights over the past 80 years, there is still so much to do about how society views women, and how women view themselves and their relationships.

My Mother Said I Never Should runs through 21 May.

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