A quartet on impressive form
The more observant amongst you may have noticed that I have been getting out a bit more lately. A few late season theatre trips have been added to the social whirl of Ladbrokes, the chemists, and the local cafe. Hardly surprising that in this latest trawl of Hertfordshire’s finest I roped in another visit to my old thespian friends down the B653. That’s the foreign field of Wheathampstead for those unfamiliar with the terrain. I am nothing if not adventurous.
If I was the nervous sort, I am but let us not go there, I would have stepped out with some trepidation. I have seen a few crackers recently and on my last visit to WDS they had dropped some way below their generally high standard. If I sensed sniffiness about their latest, Charlotte Keatley’s complex My Mother Said I Never Should, any Christmas cards coming up the Lower Luton Road would be wrapped around the proverbial eight by three house brick. Some folks can be so wasteful. Thankfully, I knew within ten minutes of settling that all missives would come lovingly stamped and letter box sized. These players were back on form.
My Mother etcetera is not an easy play to get a handle on. Four generations of females criss and cross the bewildering timescales of twentieth century life. Second World War to post Thatcherism aspirations in the blink of an eye and, in between, four actors of all the ages play at children against the symbolic wasteland backdrop. Could call for a few headache tablets but director Julie Field, astutely, signposted most with time referenced sound effects. She knows her audience. We ain’t thick but without a script the bombs of the 1940’s and the Falklands War 1980’s nicely pigeonholed potentially wandering minds.
Charlotte Keatley’s absorbing play is not so much plot as dysfunctional lives. Doris is the grandmother, in reality great grandmother, who buries her husband of sixty years and wonders if she ever really loved him. Margaret is her unfulfilled daughter sacrificing life for others and finally subsumed by dreary office life and even drearier cancer. Jackie is Margaret’s self centred artistic daughter offloading an inconvenient sprog, Rosie, to her own mother and posing as clever and interesting elder sister. All conspire in a massive family lie which, as I often say, is bound to end in tears. All their men are unthinking, unseen and offstage, which is probably the best place for most. If the youngest had one she never mentions him. At the end Rosie has a fetching kite and oodles of angst when she discovers her sister is her mother. I reckon most families down our way are like this.
That is about as much of character plot that I usually give. Says something about the performances. All totally believable and beautifully rounded. Irene Morris in her last performance with WDS, I shall certainly miss her, was on top form as the long suffering Margaret. She neither understood her mother or her children and probably went to her grave thinking that all men are shits, hers left her, and office life is less complicated and more forgiving. Sara Payne was a convincing selfish Jackie. The most awkward of the quartet and the least involved, her performance suggested a woman constantly confronting a girl she had literally and metaphorically abandoned. A reminder of faults realised and ambition nakedly fulfilled. And Eleanor Field was an even better Rosie, the awkward elephant in the room ultimately betrayed. As much as she loved Margaret and Doris, especially the latter, none ever told her the truth.
And that leads me, nicely or otherwise, to Sheila Scull’s Doris. The grandmother come great grandmother who carried a lie and kept the peace. A wonderful performance, beautifully fleshed out. I loved her tales of her old man, her beautiful ending when, in flashback, old fashioned dress and ambitions told of a life to come, and her story of the posh teapot comically serving two poverty stricken houses. A portrayal so rich you wanted to put it in a Waitrose bag and take it home. Miss Scull was the cream of this production but all of this impressive quartet played their part. Longueurs on scene changes slightly irritated and a beautiful moving staging to the soundtrack of Both Sides Now was annoyingly cut short, but overall a pretty good production from my friends down the B653. Thankfully. I have no need of house bricks. Correctly stamped or otherwise. Roy Hall