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She Called Me Mother review at Unity Theatre, Liverpool – ‘impressively moving debut’

Cathy Tyson in She Called Me Mother at Liverpool's Unity Theatre. Photo: Richard Davenport Cathy Tyson in She Called Me Mother at Liverpool's Unity Theatre. Photo: Richard Davenport
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Cathy Tyson last appeared on a Liverpool Stage in Bright Phoenix, as a homeless woman with her life in carrier bags. She returns with her own company, Pitch Lake Productions, again as a homeless woman, but here carrying the main narrative of this first play from the pen of her schoolfriend Michelle Inniss.

Inspired by conversations Inniss had with a Big Issue seller at a London railway station, the play opens up Evangeline’s memory of her life’s journey from Trinidad to the station platform, and reunites her with lost daughter Shirley (Chereen Buckley), who shares some dark memories with her mother.

There is much weighty material here, with both domestic and child abuse adding to a broader story addressing far more complex cultural issues, but the writing is always honest and direct and never becomes patronising.

Tyson and Buckley have heavy demands in solo dialogue, rarely in direct conversation, and both deliver impeccable performances. For Evangeline, Tyson has meticulously studied the Trinidadian dialect, and Buckley’s Londoner Shirley is a strong foil to her when the two finally converse directly. But Buckley’s character is by no means secondary, the pair having too many parallel life experiences for comfort.

Played out on a skeletal set of scaffold poles, rope and sand, with a lighting plot delineating the boundaries of memory and reality, Inniss’ script explores challenging territory without ever preaching to her audience. A little more pace could have tightened up the approach to the closing pages but the overall effect is impressively moving.

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Verdict
Michelle Inniss’ distinguished debut delivers a strong message through well-crafted performances from Cathy Tyson and Chereen Buckley
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