My Mother Said I Never Should

Charlotte Keatley

London Classic Theatre

Oldham Coliseum

2 April 2019 - 6 April 2019; 2hr 20min with interval

Rebecca Birch as Rosie, Kathryn Ritchie as Jackie and Lisa Burrows as Margaret (r) in London Classic Theatre's My Mother Said I Never Should, at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Sheila Burnett

After all these years, Charlotte Keatley's 1987 Contact Theatre masterpiece - still the most widely-performed play by a woman and yes, I reviewed that first production - remains an object lesson in creating powerful, vibrant theatre out of very little.

Four women, one set, a few secrets, four generations and remarkably little background gives us at once a story of one family and, I suspect, a story that resonates with many women, about the love-hate relationship between mothers and daughters.

The four generations are Doris (Judith Paris), married in 1924, her daughter Margaret (Lisa Burrows), married in 1951, Margaret's daughter Jackie (Kathryn Ritchie), born in 1952, and Jackie's daughter Rosie (Rebecca Birch), born in 1971 and brought up as Margaret's daughter, Jackie's sister. The plays follows them all across the years, from Doris's teens to Rosie's, not chronologically but dipping in and out, relating both events that change the course of their lives and feelings that speak of personal sacrifice, with the resulting fallout for each woman along the way.

One thing I recall about the initial production was that for all its family trauma it was presented with a light touch, with revelations left to add their own weight rather than being a life-sapping drag on the lives involved.

Times have clearly changed, for Michael Cabot's production for London Classic Theatre - this is the last-but-one date on an autumn-winter tour - takes things rather more seriously. I must confess in the first scene I thought I was going to hate the whole evening, so unnecessarily serious and dramatic was the tone for what was simply four children playing.

But the play warms considerably through the first half and positively glows with daughterly affection in the second, as Jackie reveals who Rosie really is and why she couldn't raise her, and we see how the oldest and youngest family members draw closer together in the face of tragic events. Keatley's surface simplicity of expression here belies a great depth of emotion and feeling.

Everything takes place on a single set (by Bek Palmer) that mixes jumbled furniture with a wire fence and other evocative images of life in Oldham, London and Manchester locations, and frankly the writer has never produced anything better.

After a slightly shaky start this My Mother Said... proves to be a more than sufficient tribute to a play that started in the North West but is now known throughout the world.

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