My Mother Said I Never Should (St James's Theatre)

“I don’t know if you’ll ever love me as much as I love you but one day you’ll understand why I’ve done this to you.”

 

Paul Robinson and Tiny Fires bring this seminal piece back to the London stage.

 

Doris, born illegitimate in 1900, exchanges her budding teaching career for marriage and motherhood. When the war is over her daughter Margaret marries an American and has Jackie, who becomes an 60s rebel. When Jackie finds herself a single mother, it is decided that baby Rosie will be brought up as Margaret’s own. That’s the plan anyway.

Keatley’s award-winning play is a moving exploration of the relationships between mothers and daughters and the consequences of breaking the most sacred taboo of motherhood. A play about the choices we make which determine the course of our lives and how it is never too late to change.

 

★★★★ The Times, Ann Treneman:

This is the story of four generations of women in one family, their secrets and lies, everyday concerns, loves and losses. It’s a terrific, bittersweet play and this is a stand-out production. Maureen Lipman is brilliant as Doris, a working-class Lancashire lass whom we see as mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She’s perfect in the part, the resentful but proud housewife, the passive-aggressive provider of food and cocoa, judgmental but loving, often in the same sentence.

[...] Caroline Faber plays Margaret as a woman we would all recognise: reliable, warm, practical. Her daughter Jackie is portrayed by Katie Brayben, who starred in the Carole King musical 'Beautiful', with spark and humanity. Serena Manteghi, as the youngest, Rosie, fizzles like a firework on stage.

 

★★★★ The Telegraph, Claire Allfree, 'Moved to tears by this family of women':

Lipman's beautifully articulated performance as Grandma Doris also makes clear the extent to which a mother's frustrations often stem from the loneliness and disappointments within their own marriage.

Robinson's production revels beautifully in the luxurious texture of each relationship and at times is so moving I watched a lot of it with tears streaming down my face.

 

★★★★ The Financial Times, Ian Shuttleworth:

Maureen Lipman leads with the wry understatement she furnishes so well as grandmother Doris. Katie Brayben sells her character Jackie’s genuine belief that her central, shattering decision is taken from a spirit of altruism, even though we may see it otherwise. This is the resolution to give her own daughter Rosie to be brought up as her sister, keeping her actual parentage secret. Serena Manteghi remains a bit strident as Rosie, but this is entirely in character.

The most modest, and in many ways the most potent, performance is that of Caroline Faber as Margaret, Doris’s daughter, Jackie’s actual and Rosie’s surrogate mother. Keatley, Robinson and cast ensure that what could have been little more than spats and sententiousness emerges as a fabric of difficult but essentially loving and giving relationships.

 

★★★★ Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford:

Let’s celebrate Paul Robinson’s fine revival, which has assembled a cracking quartet of actresses, not least a never-better Maureen Lipman putting her dry humour to superb use. Lipman’s Doris morphs gradually from an emotionally distant mother of the Forties to a much more amenable great-grandmother to Rosie (a lovely performance of wide-eyed enthusiasm from Serena Manteghi). Livewire Katie Brayben, as Doris’s granddaughter Jackie, confirms the tremendous promise of her work in the musical Beautiful last year. [...] A real treat.

 

★★★★ The Stage, Paul Vale: 'Bold, long overdue revival of a landmark play blessed with an intuitive cast':

Paul Robinson's thoughtful production even manages to make the hackneyed device of adults playing kids seem fresh but plaudits here must go to the cast. Maureen Lipman demonstrates her innate versatility as an actor, slipping effortlessly between ages while retaining the emotional  integrity of the unfulfilled matriarch Doris. Caroline Faber, as Margaret, and Katie Brayben, as Jackie, capture with precision the unspoken resentment between mother and daughter and Serena Manteghi is suitably animated as the industrious, socially aware Rosie. This a long overdue revival a work of lasting power.

 

★★★★ jonathanbaz.com, Jonathan Baz:

Lipman heads a quartet that must surely represent one of the finest ensembles in town. In a play that explores the power and the bind of motherhood, Keatley's characters are stoic. Lipman's brings a measured wisdom and a quiet wounded pain to Doris. All seeing and all knowing, she seasons the morsels of wit that Keatley has sprinkled with a perfect nuance, capturing our affection and respect.

Katie Brayben as Jackie has a first half that could be likened to “Fantine's back story”. Her pain as mother Margaret takes Rosie to raise as her own is a masterclass in understated agony. And it's not just the acting too that is so brilliant - it is Keatley's brutally honest text. Unlike Fantine these women aren’t heroines of grand literature. Fictitious yes, but played out against the suburbs of Manchester and Croydon, they are a part of all our lives.

Caroline Faber's Margaret faces her own agonies. Supporting her daughter, loving and raising her granddaughter and ultimately deserted by her husband, she brings a resonant cadence to her speeches. And then there's Serena Manteghi's gorgeous Rosie. In the early scenes, when the stage-baby is simply a mass of swaddling, Manteghi sits stage right, gurgling and cooing and (brilliantly) giving vocal life to the linen. As she grows into adolescence we forget that the actor's an adult. Manteghi captures Rosie’s childhood without cliché and as the inevitable denouement looms, her pain is refreshingly free of melodrama.

Go see this play – the acting is sensational.

 

★★★★★ The Upcoming, Stuart Boyland:

Maureen Lipman’s Doris heads the dynasty with easy, wry-humoured matriarchal majesty – a delight whether distracting daughter Margaret (Caroline Faber) from the blitz’s drone with cocoa or gently despairing at great granddaughter Rosie (Serena Manteghi)’s post-punk wardrobe 40 years later.Fresh from her Olivier award-winning turn in the title role of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Katie Brayben is charged with stoking the fiery emotive core of the play in the role of Jackie. She delivers a no less compellingly energetic performance here, an embodiment of virtuous fulfilment crucially fractured by the guilt of secretly surrendering responsibility for her daughter Rosie to her own mother Margaret (who raises the girl as her own).

[...] It’s in these vignettes, stripped back to the raw innocence of youth, that the obvious bond between the cast is perhaps most apparent. As the four characters rhyme and play, foreshadowing the main narrative, the cumulative result of their combined efforts is to conjure an utterly believable family. This chemistry, experienced in combination with the primal authenticity at work in Keatley’s writing, makes for an outstanding piece of theatre.
 

★★★★ London Theatre 1, Terry Eastham:

Turning to the actors and, once more, I have a confession to make. Maureen Lipman is one of my favourite actresses and her elevation to Damehood is long overdue. She brings a real honesty to her portrayal of Doris and is the perfect Northern Matriarch, A dutiful wife in a sixty year marriage where the fire had either gone out or was down to its embers, Doris was always there for her child, grandchild and great-grandchild to turn to in times of stress. Offering her counsel but never really saying much about her own thoughts and feelings. Maureen got to deliver some wonderful lines, such as one of the best put-downs for modern art I’ve ever heard – “I like the flame, it’s gold, looks expensive” – with wonderful timing and a look that speaks volumes.

When the cast consists of only four members it is essential that everyone is perfect and in My Mother Said I Never Should they certainly are. All four actors bring their respective character to life brilliantly. In particular I’m going to single out Serena Manteghi’s Rosie whose enthusiasm and sheer energy could have got rather irritating to watch but she managed to keep it on the right side of endearing and, particularly in her scenes with Maureen Lipman’s Doris, Serena managed to forge a perfect familial relationship that seemed to bring the old girl up and inspire life into her tired old bones and body.

 

The Reviews Hub, Stephen Bates:

[...] even the most obvious contrivances are made believable by a quartet of superb performances,.

Maureen Lipman can rarely have been more moving than she is here as Doris. At various points a playful schoolgirl, a young woman overjoyed at her engagement, an apron-clad wartime housewife and an octogenarian matriarch, she makes Doris more than just a victim of her times. This is a woman with the strength of character to fight for succeeding generations to do progressively better and to overcome resentment at the lack of opportunities for her to make more of her own life.

There is an outer frostiness to the resolute Doris’s relationship with Caroline Faber’s stoical Margaret, but the actors bring out the inner warmth between them. A wartime childhood and post-War austerity have given Margaret a work ethic that spurs her to take on both a full-time job and motherhood, but, with career opportunities for women now opening up, she feels pressures on her marriage that would have been unthinkable to her mother’s generation.

Katie Brayben, Olivier Award winner last year for her performance as Carole King in Beautiful…, is equally impressive as Jackie, moving from rebellious wild child of the Swinging Sixties to affluent yuppy of the Thatcher years. The pain of her separation from Serena Manteghi’s bubbly and optimistic Rosie is so real that it can almost be touched.

 

★★★ Michael Billington, The Guardian: 'Lipman excels in a warm hymn to motherhood': Paul Robinson delivers an impeccable revival of Charlotte Keatley’s 1987 play about the trials and tribulations of mothers and daughters.

[...] Maureen Lipman is outstanding as Doris. She captures the snobbery of an old-style teacher who makes “polytechnic” sound like a form of social degradation. Lipman also beautifully reminds us that the elderly treat their grandchildren with an indulgence they would never have shown to their children, and enters into the games that adorn the action with great spirit.

The rest of the cast is also good. Caroline Faber endows Margaret with the right strait-laced self-control, Katie Brayben communicates Jackie’s unrealised maternal longings, [whilst] Serena Manteghi reminds us that Rosie is the ultimate victim of a lifetime of deception. Much has changed in theatrical form and emotional reticence has declined since Keatley wrote My Mother Said I Never Should in 1987, but it still possesses an unflinching integrity.

 

whatsonstage, Lucinda Everett:

It is when scenes are allowed a more traditional take, the script shines, as do the talented cast of four. Representing their characters throughout the years, the women shape-shift expertly from fidgety children to stroppy teens to weary adults. Meanwhile, the love, hate, guilt and fear bound up in the complex relationships between them is revealed with the lightest of touches.

Serena Manteghi's Rosie – the family's youngest member – has a winning frankness to her, while Katie Brayben is a knot of good intentions and hapless selfishness as her natural mother Jackie. Caroline Faber gives Margaret (Rosie's grandmother and adoptive mother) a quiet strength that is ever on the brink of shattering.

But it is Maureen Lipman who steals the show as matriarch Doris (Margaret's mother). By turns a bitter widow, distant mother, doting grandmother and cheeky youngster, she treats us to winning one-liners ("Don't shout, I don't want the neighbours to think I'm deaf"), stinging insults and devastating monologues, with the easy grace only her kind of experience can produce.

 

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DORIS Maureen Lipman
MARGARET Caroline Faber
JACKIE Katie Brayben
ROSIE Serena Manteghi
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