DramaReviewSouth East

My Mother Said I Never Should – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Charlotte Keatley

Director: Michael Cabot

Reviewer: Steve Turner

Writer Charlotte Keatley once observed “our memories aren’t chronological. The order is dictated by what you need to tell”. Keatley uses this maxim to great effect in her oft-revived, much performed and translated play which follows 60 years in the lives of the women of a Lancashire family.

Played out on a cluttered set with all manner of odds and ends scattered around, packing cases doubling up as piano stools and a large box used as a piano and a hideaway, the play unfolds in a non-linear way, jumping backwards and forwards throughout the characters’ lives. At first, this comes across as a little bewildering but thanks to the innate skill of the performers and the excellent writing it becomes almost natural – very much as if Doris, the great grandmother of the family, is telling the tale herself, dipping in and out of her memories.

Using a popular song or piece of music from each era helps the audience to grasp the setting as each new scene begins and with many costume changes along the way to aid this understanding, we are left to focus on the crux of the story which is the desire to love and to be loved. Each of the women exhibits both of these desires throughout, sometimes in a positive way, sometimes a negative one but always with conviction and passion. Each seems destined to make the same mistakes as the previous generation, each however in a slightly different way as befits the era in which they live.

Playing a wide range of ages from a young child with a doll to the staunch, but never austere, great grandmother Doris, Judith Paris is the embodiment of the product of parents born in the Victorian era combined with a mother who lived through the depression and the Second World War. Reluctant to waste anything, scornful of her daughter’s decision to marry and move to London, and seemingly always unhappy with her lot. It’s not until the very end of the play that we see a different side to her.

Whilst playing a wide range of ages may seem the most difficult task, it is perhaps left to Rebecca Birch as the youngest member of this family, having to convey the change in her character over just a few years from young girl to sixteen year old. Birch accomplishes this with seeming ease, although there were perhaps a few too many moments of storming off in a huff.

Lisa Burrows as Margaret Bradley encapsulates the persona of a woman who as a child and young adult lived through the war and rationing to marry at the beginning of the 1950s, an era where people began to look to the future in a positive way, she tries hard to bring her daughter up with the same sense of values imprinted on her by her mother. Initially coming across as devoid of empathy with a tough exterior Burrows allows a glimpse into the warm heart of her character in several touching moments with her mother and daughter.

Kathryn Ritchie gives a well-observed performance as the flighty and somewhat headstrong Jackie, the young girl full of dreams becoming a young single mother and then a confident art gallery owner all the while torn between the life she has and the one she has abandoned, seemingly never quite sure if she wants that life back or not.

The first act seemed to be a little slow to get going, not helped by the many blackouts between scenes, however, this is integral to the work and once adjusted to the play is brought into focus. The slightly angrier, more brash arguments of the first act giving way to more reasoned, thoughtful dialogue in the second and third acts as the play charts the changing pressures on women and their lives throughout the 20th century.

A thought-provoking work, well directed and with excellent performances throughout.

Runs until 22 April 2019 | Image: Sheila Burnett

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