My Mother Said I Never Should

Charlotte Keatley
Tiny Fires
St James Theatre

Maureen Lipman and Serena Manteghi Credit: Alex Harvey-Brown (Savannah Photographic)
Caroline Faber, Katie Brayben and Maureen Lipman Credit: Alex Harvey-Brown (Savannah Photographic)
Katie Brayben and Serena Manteghi Credit: Alex Harvey-Brown (Savannah Photographic)

A brief description could make My Mother Said I Never Should sound like a feminist tract, a soap opera or a sitcom. However, when she was 25 Charlotte Keatley wrote a subtle, intelligent play about mothers and daughters seen across the decades from the Blitz to a present day that is now just over three decades ago.

The scope then stretches back even further to show that contemporary problems dogged the Edwardians, though back then issues such as illegitimacy were hidden and shameful.

The play weaves in and out of the lives of four generations of feisty ladies, each a representative of her generation.

Maureen Lipman is close to typecast as Doris, a Mancunian matriarch with a wicked, dry sense of humour and strong genes. In many senses, she is a stock character who could almost have been written to allow the divine Miss L to demonstrate her impeccable comic timing, garnering most of the evening’s laughs. However, like all of the other figures in this piece, Doris has hidden depths.

A generation down, Caroline Faber as Margaret bucks the familial trend as a serious-minded, responsible workhorse willing to give up her own freedom to bring up what is effectively a second daughter, while supporting a husband whom she should never have married. That inability to find the right man is a family trait.

Katie Brayben has given up musical stardom playing Carole King in Beautiful to take on the challenge of Jackie, an irresponsible single mother and wannabe artist with complex and contradictory feelings that make her quick-tempered as she fails to show love until it is too late.

Last and by no means least comes lovable Rosie, played by Serena Manteghi. She is the light of everybody’s lives, a sweet baby who becomes a bright child and then a caring teenager, capable of loving all three representatives of the family line and at times having a wise head on her young shoulders than any of the others.

The quartet flow backwards and forwards in time across the 2½-hour playing time, gradually filling in massive gaps through the revelation of a stream of secrets that often provoke crises but can also lead to comic moments.

What this play deliberately leaves out is the men. At best, the male of the species is represented by reportage but in every case they fail to live up to the (sometimes high) expectations of each of these wholly authentic creations.

It is easy to see why Paul Robinson wanted to revive a drama that is filled with heart and soul for his production company Tiny Fires.

He is helped by tremendous performances from every one of the actresses on a bare, Signe Beckmann-designed set adorned with little more than nine TV sets of different eras. The openness allows the imagination to thrive and gives the performers plenty of space to show off their talents.

My Mother Said I Never Should can at times be a little simplistic but this multi-award-winning debut is the kind of play that could easily make viewers laugh and cry at separate moments, as well as providing the opportunity to recognise themselves in the characters both on and offstage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher