REVIEW: My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley
There was a clue in the title: this play was about women, and perhaps peculiarly British women at that, with the legacy of stiff-upper-lippery still in evidence, as well as working motherhood and its contradictions. Four generations, and a snapshot of hopes, fears, aspirations fulfilled and not. The production was moving and poignant, and a perfect illustration of the misery which can boil away lives in a pot of good intentions.
Director Lindsey Meer drew superb performances from all four cast members, weaving them in and out of ferocious childhood veracity and adult falsehood. Janet McCarter was entirely plausible as the wartime mother Doris Partington, whose burgeoning career in teaching had given way to wifeliness, a no-nonsense provider of all necessary things to her daughter apart from emotional comfort. There was a flatness to her harsh regime which conjured up not cruelty but a sense of duty which overcame tenderness. (Her husband, it seems, had soon lost interest.)
Mary Campbell (as Margaret Bradley) represented the next generation, first as the emotionally neglected child and then as wife and mother. This was another wonderful performance, with an intensity of angry bewilderment at the way of things, attempting to repair relations with her own mother but closing doors on her daughter. (Her husband had lost interest too.) The youngest mother, Victoria Rowland played another convincing role as Jackie Metcalfe. In a common situation, too-young, unready, motherhood not coped with, the child was surrendered back to Jackie’s own mother. The pain of being unable to mother her daughter was evinced with painful clarity, as was the desire to make everything right. (Her daughter’s father had soon scarpered).
Abby Nicol played superbly the youngest member of the family, the daughter/sister whose life was filled with love and care but not with truth until the denouement of the play. She was able to maintain the simplicity, innocence and fervour of youth within the above tense environment. The set design (Dee Harvey) deserves acclaim too – a mass of clutter behind all the action – how appropriate as a representation of these lives! And a clever device to allow the swift retrieval of items needed for the various scenes.
It is a play which, for all its heartrendingly bleak moments, finished on an optimistic note; the underlying care and love which each generation of women had for the others finally made it to the surface.