MY MOTHER SAID I NEVER SHOULD
by Charlotte Keatley
directed by Elizabeth Holland
Blackburn Drama Club
Charlotte Keatley's first main stage play My Mother Said I Never Should was premiered in 1987 at Contact, Manchester, and in 1989 at the Royal Court Theatre, London. It has been translated into twenty-two languages and is performed across the world. In 2000, it was chosen by the Royal National Theatre as one of the hundred Significant Plays of the Twentieth Century.
I was fortunate enough to have been at the premiere of this play in 1987, and I have seen it again a number of times since. It was with pleasure I was looking forward to seeing it afresh with Blackburn Drama Club’s presentation. I was not disappointed. This presentation was possibly one of the best I have seen of Charlotte Keatley’s play, a story that moves back and forth through the lives of four women, and sets the enormous social changes of the twentieth century against the desire to love and to be loved.
By any standards, Blackburn Drama Club’s presentation would stand alongside the very best that professional theatre can offer. It was masterly, it was well acted, it was well presented, it was well choreographed, and above all, it entertained.
For me, the strength of the play lies in its construction. The various versions I have seen of the play have all been different, and yet all have worked, and in my opinion, none better than here. The director has done an absolutely superb job of recreating this story which revolves around the lives of four related women whose menfolk are talked about but never seen. The impact of their relationships with these men reverberates through their own dysfunctional relationships with each other.
The other important point is that the women are products of their decades. And the play shows the progression of women’s rights to both their children and their own lives as the years unfold.
In the programme notes, the director states: “The cast started the process by bringing in photographs of themselves at stages in their lives matching those of the characters in the play. If it went past their actual age they looked to their mothers or aunts, and this gave us a great stepping stone into how to approach repression to childhood.”
Because of the way the play’s narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, the director used popular, well-known music of the era to highlight the context at the point the story was being told. This worked extremely well, and was in keeping with the author’s intention of setting the specific period of each character’s story.
Doris was the elder, played by Jenny Hodkinson, a woman brought up in the 1920s, living through the war, making the best of being married for 60 years to a man who never really showed her love. Her daughter, Margaret (Sarah Nolan), brought up during the war years, finds love lacking in the house and so turns to the first man who shows an interest: an American airman called Ken. They settle down and have a daughter quite quickly, but their marriage also eventually fails.
Their daughter Jackie (Heather Radler) is of the new generation brought up in the 1960s, eager to leave home and be independent. She goes to art school but made pregnant by an on/off boyfriend. She doesn’t want to be tied down as a single mother, so Margaret takes the child on, with the proviso that Rosie (Louisa Harkness) should be brought up believing Jackie is her sister.
On an open stage, a trio of free-standing steel mesh barriers held the properties and costumes that each character needed for a specific point in the story; a smock, a hat, an apron a kite or a doll, in fact, everything that was need to illustrate the story at that specific point. All the characters were dressed in basic black, which meant that a costume that had to be worn to highlight the particular period could be kept to a minimum. The characters that were not part of a time-frame would stand still, until it was time for them to enter the storyline. On paper this sounds incredibly complicated but, because of the way the director had choreographed the action, it worked extremely well.
This is an ensemble piece, with no one character more important than another. Margaret was the pivotal role around whom all the other characters performed. When they had to be playing as children, they all skipped around as a quartet singing the round “My mother said …….”
Jenny Hodkinson was superb as Doris. Skipping around like a 6-year-old one minute and then being grandma the next, she was impressive. Sarah Nolan, playing Margaret, had another role that moved from a child to an adult with ease. Her final point in the story was very moving indeed and surely must have brought a tear to the eye of all but the most hardened spectator.
Heather Radler moved from child to teenager to motherhood and back again with ease. It was an excellent performance, especially when faced with the reality of bringing up a child with no home, no money and seemingly no prospects.
Louisa Harkness was a revelation. Her body contortions as a child were absolutely right, and as she was growing up, a somewhat disturbed child of her generation, she proved what a fine actress she has become.
As I said, this is an ensemble piece with no one role more dominant than the other so my congratulations go to the four of you for creating such a wonderful piece of theatre.
I must compliment the backstage crew, and properties and costume teams for their work in helping to bring the story to life, and especially to Elizabeth Holland, the director, for creating such a riveting piece of theatre.
The play is on the school syllabus and pupils studying this play would do well to see this particular presentation. It was excellent.
Thank you for your very warm hospitality, and in the words of one of my ACT colleagues, happy playmaking.