Ordinary isn’t something plays often strive to be – but Charlotte Keatley’s 1987 drama My Mother Said I Never Should thrives on its ordinariness.
Four female generations of one family – who for a long while pretend to be three generations – potter through the decades of the 20th Century, each life story overlapping via the episodic and slightly dream-like structure of Keatley’s play.
The individuals each reflect the overarching evolutions to the lives of British women – from housewife to typists to career women – but they avoid becoming more like symbols than characters.
All four cast members play different aged versions of themselves, darting swiftly between precociousness and resignation. Carole Dance is particularly good at this, capturing the hard-won mixture of stoicism and contentedness characterising Doris, the oldest member of the family.
The charm of Michael Cabot’s production resides in its appreciation of domestic detail. Utility crockery is replaced by bright yellow Formica as the Second World War ends, before that too becomes outmoded.
Bek Palmer’s costume design is similarly adept at picking up not just the changes to fashion (swinging sixties sack dresses morphing into perms and power-dressing shoulder-pads), but also the repeating cycles. A Laura Ashley-style frock worn at the end of the 1980s notably echoes the Edwardian childhood clothes of Doris.
The placing of the interval makes the first part just 45 minutes long, As a result Cabot’s production loses momentum. But it remains a watchable play simply because it’s still so rare to see something on stage that, for many, will be so intensely recognisable.