My Mother Said I Never Should @ Watford Palace Theatre, Watford

cast list
Katherine Manners, Eve Pearce, Abigail Thaw and Claire Brown

directed by
Brigid Larmour

Charlotte Keatley’s 1987 play, My Mother Said I Never Should, is considered by some to be a minor feminist classic, as it not only explores the relationships between mothers and daughters over four generations but also examines the changing role of women in society over the last 40 years.

Margaret, daughter of Doris, was raised during the Second World War and grew up during a time when a woman’s place was still the home. Margaret’s daughter Jackie was born during the ’60s and she does what her mother could not by becoming a working mum.
Jackie has her daughter, Rosie, while young and unmarried. Unable to cope, she ends up giving Rosie to her mother to raise as her own. Jackie then goes on to make a career for herself and, having always had a love for art, she opens her own gallery. Rosie grows up living happily with her mother and grandmother’, but when Jackie asks Rosie come and live with her, this raises the question over how whether she really is the best person to raise her volatile teenage daughter.

My Mother is a closely-observed portrayal of mothers and daughters and their often complex relationships. As it was written in the ’80s some of the play’s freshness and relevance has inevitably faded over the years. Working mothers and ‘career women’ have become the norm, an accepted part of British society, and some of the struggles faced by Jackie feel a little redundant as a result. Teenage pregnancies are also perhaps less shocking than they once were.

Also, by choosing to tell stories spread across four generations, the play spreads itself rather thinly, making it difficult to feel particularly moved by any of the character’s predicaments. There’s too much going on and no one journey to follow.

The production benefits greatly from some first class performances. All four actors are well cast in their roles and Katherine Manners, as Rosie, is particularly impressive. She spends the majority of the play playing an eight year old girl, something she did with such skill, that the potential pitfalls inherent when an adult plays a young child on stage were all avoided. Claire Brown was also very good when playing a child. In fact her performance as the young Jackie was more satisfying than of the adult Jackie.

Having directed the plays premiere in ’87, Brigid Larmour knows the text well and has done a good job of restaging the play. My Mother is however very much a product of its time and despite an outstanding cast, this revival fails to really move its audience in the desired way.

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