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Three Generations Of Women

Alice Trueman and Anna Jefferson
Broken Leg Theatre in co-production with Greenwich Theatre
Greenwich Theatre

Nicola Harrison as Frankie and Moir Lesley as Gilly Credit: Amy Griffin
Moir Lesley as Gilly, Nicola Harrison as Young Gilly and Emily Spetch as her friend Credit: Amy Griffin
Emily Spetch as her Frankie's friend and Nicola Harrison as Frankie Credit: Amy Griffin

In a project supported by Greenwich Theatre, Leeds City Council and the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton, Broken Leg Theatre solicited stories of the experiences of real women growing up in the UK over the last 100 years.

The aim was to compare life in the different generations. Are women’s lives easier now, or do they face the same challenges as their mothers and grandmothers but in different guises? This play is made from the stories they collected.

It begins with a sound collage of recorded comments which, as the four actresses take up their positions on stage, become live voices quoting maternal advice and we seem set for a verbatim piece presenting snapshots of women’s position in society through the years.

In fact Alice Trueman and Anna Jefferson have written something much more imaginative, drawing on the many individual submissions to create a contemporary story that bridges three generations of women in the same family.

Each of the women speaks of her own life, giving fragments of personal experience that reflect a particular period. Grandma Elsie, still living in the Yorkshire pit village where she was born in 1936, tells of being aged 11, misinformed about sex by other girl’s gossip and of dances as the place to meet boys (though the dancing stopped once you were married).

Daughter Gilly remembers, in the 1960s, buying a 40d Woolworth’s wedding ring to pretend she was married to apply for the Pill, speaks of the quandary of whether to follow Dr Spock or Penelope Leach in bringing up baby. Each generation presents a different reaction to parenting, unmarried motherhood, pursuing aspirations but these glimpses of social change are part of the background of a real story of a disrupted family.

Granddaughter Frankie, now thirty, has chucked in what seemed a dream job (she just wasn’t happy in it) and has moved back to live with her mum Gilly, though the fact that Gilly is dying of cancer unless they can find a perfect bone marrow match must be another factor in that decision.

Both women are used to living alone, so it's not going to be easy. Gilly’s relations with Elsie are even worse: they are non-existent; it is thirty years since she last saw her mother. Now Frankie has a wild plan.

This is a story that uncovers secrets. At one point it seems to be going against nature—that niggles—but there is a twist to explain it and you really do want to know what will happen to these interesting women and to know more about them.

Much of that is due to the actors. Gilly Daniels is self-contained Elsie, brought up in a world where you kept yourself to yourself but perhaps now learning some new ways; Moir Lesley is Gilly, self-sufficient, unforgiving, used to doing things her way; Nicola Harrison is Frankie, somewhat stalled in her own life but needing to take action, and also plays the young Gilly struggling to adapt to the wildness of life when she gets to university.

Emily Spetch doubles as Gilly’s more worldly university friend and as Frankie’s best friend since girlhood, someone close who cares but is not so enmeshed in the family’s tensions. The play shows these women only in relation to each other but these performers give them a fuller reality.

Individual circumstances affected the choices made by each generation greatly influenced by contemporary attitudes. But is life easier? This is a play that goes on asking questions rather than offering answers.

On the company's web site, you can now find a digital archive of women’s stories to which you can add your own.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton