Review: My Mother Said I Never Should

Felicity Houlbrooke as Rosie in My Mother Said I Never Should. Photographs: Sheila Burnett
23 Nov 2018 @ 8.10 pm
| Entertainment

This is a classic play about women and female familial relationships. It was written 29 years ago yet is still as resonant today.

My Mother Said I Never Should
  • Till Sat Nov 24
  • York Theatre Royal
  • £15-£32.50
  • More details

My Mother Said I Never Should draws you in and, after a slow start, I was hooked.

The dramatic structure is complex, a web of scenes which take us through four women’s lives and across four generations from 1940 to 1985.

Director Michael Cabot handles the transitions from childhood to adulthood smoothly and pinpoints the main themes with precision.

Real impact

The structure at the heart of the play is of paramount importance and the scenes of childhood each signal a message in which the child is instructing the adult.

All this explains the setting of the play, designed by Bek Palmer and capably lit by Andy Grange. Timelines are fluid and since the voice of childhood is so essential the use of a wasteland suits the play’s message.

But the abstraction of the setting in no way lessen the real impact of the play.

The four women are described by Keating as being like dancers and instrumentalists who create the score of social change.

Doris, played by Carole Dance, is the matriarch; she handles the role with extreme sensitivity and offers a range of emotions which illuminate the narrative.

Margaret, her daughter (Connie Walker), represents a generation who were used to sacrifice and adaptation. Her brusque long suffering character is tough and resilient while her own daughter Jackie, played by Kathryn Richie explores the world and is prepared to give up her child in order to do so.

The last woman is her illegitimate daughter Rosie, played with pace and energy by Felicity Houlbrooke. The future awaits her while she observes the others and offers sound advice and pertinent comment.

Tense struggle

Connie Walker as Margaret and Carole Dance as Doris
I did not find the parts where the women were children as satisfying as the scenes of interaction between the adults. The extended denouement in the scene in which they were packing up grandma’s house seemed less contrived.

They delved into bags and boxes, discovering baby clothes, crockery, photographs and discarded garments, remnants of their past. Conversations between young Rosie and her great grandmother were unsentimental yet touching.

Connie Walker, Felicity Houlbrooke and Kathryn Ritchie as Jackie

The tense struggle of Margaret and Jackie’s relationship was heart-wrenching and timeless.

There are no male characters and therefore Keatley is able to focus on her task. Much of the dialogue is pitch perfect. the men are present in the women’s conversations but are a silent presence.

It is a play of its time but it grows in power and by the second half, it could not be more contemporary. Motherhood and the female struggle to manage a life alongside this role remains an insoluble problem for many.