MY MOTHER SAID I NEVER SHOULD
by Charlotte Keatley.
The Theatre 2 Spring Street OX7 5NL To 11 March 2015.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01608 642350.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 March.
Energetic, unsentimentally sympathetic revival of a fine play.
Like Shelagh Delaney, Charlotte Keatley is (to date) a one-hit wonder. She has written other plays, but none has come near the success of My Mother Said.
Unlike Delaney, Keatley’s is a wonderfully-crafted play, in character, structure, use of theatrical objective correlatives and expansive thematic sense. Whereas A Taste of Honey presents a girl with nothing except resilience, Keatley’s women – four generations in a family covering most of the 20th-century – are created by, and recreate themselves through, memories.
Life’s a conundrum, where older peoples’ experience is called upon in the search for a self, but is never a substitute for life. Eventually, inanimate things which accompany the action – a stain on a dress, a soft-toy, the discovery of a birth certificate – fall into place. And as the youngest, Rosie, living with great-grandmother Doris, finally solves the solitaire puzzle that each generation’s had to work-out for itself, the action moves back to a beginning only hinted at, Doris’s joyful sense of a new life when her boyfriend Jack proposes on a picnic.
The proposal occasions what follows, but at that point the grass-stain on her dress has no importance. And the dilemmas, complications and losses through the generations operate within a positive sphere. Rosie’s statement she will have no children is the negative pole, neutralised by the insistence that each generation must reach further than its predecessors.
John Terry’s Chipping Norton revival, energetic yet nuanced, suits a script which keeps the stage alive with action. Set in-the-round, its intimacy emphasises speed as characters rush on or off, their scenes played close-up. Time can switch magically, as when Doris’s daughter Margaret hides under the piano during an air-raid, for her daughter Jackie to emerge, as it were a generation on.
Terry doesn’t cast an older performer as Doris, but in assertive spectacles Sue McCormick suggests maternal authority with flashes of youth. Charlotte Croft’s Rosie has caught late-century speech patterns, Zara Ramm distinguishes Margaret’s maturing concerns, contrasted by Jessica Guise, whose Jackie flings herself into sixties freedom before discovering the emotional consequences. They are four strong individual performances in a kaleidoscopic ensemble production.
Doris: Sue McCormick.
Margaret: Zara Ramm.
Jackie: Jessica Guise.
Rosie: Charlotte Croft.
Director: John Terry.
Designer: Alex Berry.
Lighting: Chris Head.
Composer: Harry Sever.
Assistant director: Natalie Hind.