We’ve all been there, receiving a long list of instructions from our mothers that give us a long list of horrors that await us should we fail to follow her advice.
It’s this basis that forms the jumping off point for Charlotte Keatley’s debut play My Mother Said I Never Should.
Taking a look at the interwoven lives of four female members of the same family spanning a period of 60 years, the play not only looks at the changing relationship of mother/daughter relationships over the years but also the changing social status of women over the period.
It’s an ambitious piece, attempting to cover multiple characters, time frames and locations over three acts. Scenes switch swiftly from time period and location, with act one alone containing 10 scenes. This non-linear approach perhaps intended to introduce us to the four protagonists but, instead, it results in a bitty evening, making it hard to fully engage with the characters.
Things calm down slightly in the middle act, keeping to one scene that allows more emotional connection with the women but the third act again resorts to artistic wanderlust and gives us a further eight scenes.
Gallery Players’ production at the Sir John Mills Theatre does attempt to mitigate this constantly shifting diorama with a simple set and minimal props; however, the intimate dimension of the numerous scene changes required does interrupt narrative flow. Despite the simple staging, here is a show crying out for a larger space to allow smoother scene transitions.
As Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie, Brenda Caddick, Jayne Lindill, Ruth Hayward and Emily Rowe respectively work well together but, perhaps down to the script, it is often difficult to warm to any of the women. Although each generation hopes to have a better life than her mother, there is never any real sense of progression or improvement.
For a play that looks at the familial bond it’s a strangely icy and lonely atmosphere that prevails; that apart from an obvious plot twist regarding Rosie parentage, never really provides any dramatic crescendo.
The Royal National Theatre listed My Mother Said I Never Should as one of the ‘100 significant plays of the century’ but it is hard to see their justification. While Keatley’s play is perhaps rare in its all female construction, her script and structure does little to engage.
There is potential to offer some sort of insight into the changing role of mothers over the century but, instead, we are left wondering what Keatley’s message is. A brave choice by Gallery Players who continue to bring unexpected work to the region but a choice on this occasion that somehow misses the mark.