My Mother Said I Never Should is the story of four women from four generations of the same family and explores changing times and views. Considering Charlotte Keatley was just 25 when she wrote this (back in 1985), it is amazing she had such insight.
The four women are Doris (the grandmother), Margaret (her daughter), Jackie (her granddaughter) and Rosie (her great granddaughter). Each actor plays her character at different stages of her life as the play moves back and forth between time periods. The play is a GCSE text and has much to analyse on how different generations communicate with each other from their own unique standpoints and how different times produce very different women.
This version is unique as Sheffield Theatres has produced it in conjunction with fingersmiths, a company aiming to explore challenging and entertaining ways of presenting theatre which have previously not been available to Deaf audiences in their own language. Here the actors (and their characters) are D/deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate – adding another barrier to the generational communication problem.
The main plot of the story is that Jackie is a struggling single mother who gives her daughter to her own mother to raise so she can focus on her career as an artist. This decision and its consequences form much of the conflict and drama of the piece. The choices open to each generation and their hopes and dreams are very different and this is effectively explored in this well written and often humorous piece.
Several devices are used to make the play accessible to both D/deaf and hearing audiences. In the main the actors speak the words and use BSL simultaneously. At other times, the dialogue is subtitled on a screen or spoken by off stage actors while the characters used only BSL to communicate. Occasional scenes were like overhearing a telephone conversation as only one actor spoke and the other’s BSL was not subtitled. These various methods were switched frequently, sometimes mid-scene, requiring much higher levels of concentration from the audience than is normally needed in the theatre. With a production that doesn’t end until 10.30pm it was quite demanding to watch.
All four actors – Ali Briggs as Doris, Jude Mahon as Margaret, EJ Raymond as Jackie and Lisa Kelly as Rosie – were impressive in their roles, combining all the levels of communication alongside their character portrayals very well indeed. They made the extra dimensions of physical acting, BSL, voice over and spoken word seem very natural and deserve high praise. The scene where Jackie gives up her daughter to her mother to raise was played in complete silence using BSL and subtitles and was extraordinarily powerful because of that.
Sometimes the fact that the audience had to read, listen and watch simultaneously did get in the way of following the play and took some time to get used to. It didn’t help that the very first scene in the play is already quite abstract with all four characters as children playing a game together. The kite shaped screen is above the stage and reading dialogue there meant you couldn’t always give full attention to the excellent performances.
But Sheffield Theatres and fingersmiths deserve great credit for taking this complex piece and reworking it to be accessible to both D/deaf and hearing audiences simultaneously. There were times when this worked brilliantly and times when it was a little confusing but overall it was a remarkable piece of theatre.
My Mother Said I Never Should continues at the Lyceum Theatre from 13 November to 23 November at 7.45pm with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2.15pm.