Don’t get me wrong – there were aspects of the play I loved….The feral quality of little girls ‘playing’ together, the seemingly casual way they dish out hurt and deal with their own hurt, voicing all the big questions that the grown-ups avoid: Where do you go when you die? How does the seed get into your tummy? What makes it grow? Why does Daddy squeeze Mummy so hard to show he loves her? I liked the set, a wasteground as a jumble of stuff used and discarded throughout the course of the four women’s lives from the 1920s to the 1980s, where the children played, and the actors created domesticity as they played out their lives. The action moves between eras, and although it takes some adjustment, the swift transitions between time and place keep interest high.
Asking grown women to play children has its pitfalls, and sadly many of these are dropped into. Over-emphasis in tone and gesture and an awkwardness of movement, make the children’s scenes painful at times, and lack authenticity, even though the content of the scenes has resonance. It is a play of its time and was ground-breaking in 1987, but in today’s world the issues addressed – career choices and expectations for women, sexual freedom, financial independence, relationships between men and women – seem muted, mentioned but not explored, and true conflict avoided. Absentee men are constantly referenced, their effects on the lives of the women are seen, felt, discussed, but without any real anger on the part of these women.
Judith Paris as Doris Partington is easily the most fluent and versatile of the four actors, the grandmother of the group; Rebecca Birch as Rosie Metcalfe was more comfortable as a teenager, though very convincing as a crying baby. The most problematic relationship for me was between the mother and daughter combo, Lisa Burrows as Margaret the mother, and Kathryn Ritchie as Jackie her daughter. They worked almost too hard at not communicating so that many of their scenes felt unconvincing and lacked conviction. Michael Cabot the Director took a standpoint of emphasising the sameness of the women’s experiences, stating ‘each successive generation echoes similar mistakes made by the one before’. There have been massive changes in women’s lives over this period of time; I feel he missed that opportunity to show how women have moved on, made different choices, become empowered and taken control of their own destiny.
As ever, the Coliseum was welcoming and a great venue.
My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley, at the Coliseum Oldham, 2-6 April 2019