My Mother Said I Never Should

9th October 2009

At Watford Palace Theatre until 17 October

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

it comes as a surprise to find that it is over 20 years since Charlotte Keatley wrote – and Brigid Larmour first directed – My Mother Said, and an even bigger surprise to see that despite its timeless themes (emotional inheritance, the political and the personal, the interaction of public and private, the role of gender)
the play has not aged well. It even… hush… seems dated, although it’s perfectly clear to see how avant-garde it would have appeared in 1987.

It opens to a plain stage, and, sadly, a half-full auditorium. Where have all the audiences gone? This is a classic piece of 20th century drama, which should appeal to both men and women despite its female casting and feminist bias… can no-one tear themselves away from Strictly Come Dancing and Masterchef in search of something more demanding?

In My Mother Said the intertwined lives of four women from one family are interspersed with scenes in which a group of generic female characters (one hesitates to say ‘girls’) portray almost mythical acts of friendship and hatred. These were the moments that seemed least successful, beautifully lit though they were, alienating us from the mother/daughter, grandmother/ granddaughter relationships of the main plot. Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie are universal, archetypal, but the story of their lives has personal resonance and emotional vitality too.

Overall it’s very engaging, and Brigid Larmour has managed to coax some clever performances, just the right side of caricature. Katherine Manners as Rosie, who appears mostly as a child, was vivid and funny, if a little one-dimensional; Claire Brown as Jackie had great presence and great control – her desperation at one point was almost unbearably painful to watch. Eve Pearce, Doris, was consistent; Abigail Thaw as Margaret patchy – but saddled with the least sympathetic character, the least rewarding part.

The production perhaps lacked a little fluidity; it felt over ‘acted’ in parts, but it has clearly been thoughtfully, maybe too thoughtfully, put together. Challenging though My Mother Said is, for a contemporary audience, it still has much to offer, and the Palace’s version is worth seeing. Switch the television off. This is real life.

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