Review: My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley; Gallery Players at Sir John Mills until Saturday April 09.

The lyrics kept echoing through my mind as I waited for the curtain to rise on this award-winning work. They were used in Anthony Newley’s 1970s musical Stop the World I Want to Get Off’: ‘My mother said I never should play with the girlies in the wood; if you do, she would say, they’ll only end up in the family way.’

They are very apt lines for this play about four women from different generations. Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie are related as mothers and daughters and two of them have been born out of wedlock but whether this involved a visit to the woods we do not know.

What we do know is that each of them is determined to see that her offspring does better than she has done.. But, as we know, life doesn’t always measure up to expectations. Towards the end one of them says, ‘You scrimp and save to give your daughter a better life and you find that’s not what they want.’

What she is really saying is that we are each of us individuals and nobody can realistically plan our lives for us. We have to let our kids get on with it in their own way. To do this Keatley travels us backwards and forwards through scenes in Manchester, Oldham and London over a period of more than 60 years from the 1920s to late 1987.

Apart from the fact that we are dodging backwards and forwards in time, the four main characters also have to appear sometimes as their child selves in a slightly sinister game of Let’s Kill Mummy. It involves a lot of short episodes that really cry out for a roomer stage that would facilitate slicker movement.

It’s seems slightly bitty in the busy first act but it does enable us to view the characters at various stages of their lives. It also lends an ironic dimension to some of the things they say. Each of them, for instance, at some stage vows not to have children.

There is nothing profound in this play. It’s about very ordinary people, the personal and generative conflicts between the women over the years, in particular the secret about Rosie, the last-born who is brought up thinking her mother is her sister.

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It’s piece that connects with audiences because so many can recognise slices from their own upbringing and because it is done with such good humour. It is loaded with sharp jokes and, above all, through the lies, the guilt and the evasions, this is also a story about old-fashioned family love grinding its way through whatever fortune happens to throw up.

Brenda Caddick (Doris), Jayne Lindill (Margaret), Ruth Hayward (Jackie) and Emily Rowe (Rosie) slip in and out of adulthood and childhood with some facility in an evening that gives you plenty to think about.

David Henshall.

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