London Classic Theatre’s touring production of My Mother Said I Never Should is a poignant and moving look at women’s lives across the twentieth century.

Oldham is an ideal venue to see the production, as it’s the place where the story begins. Matriarch Doris (Judith Paris) was born in Oldham in 1900 and was married there in 1924. As the family’s financial situation improves, they move to Cheadle Hulme. Daughter Margaret (Lisa Burrows) leaves to pursue a career as a secretary in London, where Jackie (Kathryn Richie) and Rosie (Rebecca Birch) are subsequently raised. The non-linear narrative shifts between different locations to reflect the changing homes of the four generations of women at various points in their lives.

Charlotte Keatley’s play astutely captures the dynamics at play in family relationships and explores the complexities of balancing a career, motherhood and marriage. Although ostensibly about circumstances that affect four individual women, Keatley uses the characters to explore the changing pressures and expectations on women over the generations. Relationships with men are shown to have a big impact on the events in the characters’ lives, but it is significant that the men do not appear on stage. All voices heard are female.

Director Michael Cabot draws out strong performances from the cast that convincingly reflect the nature of inter-generational relationships. There is an ease in the way Doris and Rosie interact whereas the mother-daughter relationships are strained. A distressing scene emerges when Jackie is forced to say goodbye to Rosie by a mother who believes she knows what’s best for her. Richie and Burrows simultaneously capture the closeness and fragility of the parent-child bond in a way that’s quietly heart-breaking.

Bek Palmer’s set design at times detracts from the realism of the performances. Setting the entirety of the production in a wasteland that only appears sporadically seems at odds with the domestic feel of the majority of the play. In particular, using a crate and typewriter to form a grand piano stretches credulity to breaking point. That said, Palmer’s costume designs, which include a drop-waist 1920s frock, 1960s shift dresses and 1980s children’s wear, effectively signpost the non-linear shifts in time and aid the coherence and cohesion of the narrative.

First performed in 1987, My Mother Said I Never Should has enduring appeal; in its consideration of gender and power in both the home and the workplace, the play’s themes remain timely and important.

My Mother Said I Never Should is a London Classic Theatre touring production. It is at Oldham Coliseum until 6 April then at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from 16-20 April 2019.

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