A FASCINATING and gripping insight into the lives of four generations of women in one family proved to be a must-see.
My Mother Said I Never Should explores what it is to be a woman and what society expects of women over the decades, from the 1900s to the 1970s.
The play, written by Charlotte Keatley, was first performed in 1987 and has gone on to be one of the most-widely produced plays ever written by a woman.
But this Sheffield Theatres and fingersmiths production has given it a fresh perspective under the direction of Jeni Draper.
The four female relatives are all played by hearing-impaired, profoundly deaf and hearing actors who move between spoken English and sign language.
This brings a new dimension to the narrative as it weaves in the experience of D/deaf people from across the years.
It’s a very inclusive performance and as the actors quickly move between different decades and ages, no-one is left behind.
Subtitles appear on the screen’s stage when dialogue is being spoken or signed — but at some emotionally-charged moments no translation is needed at all.
A voice-over is also sometimes used to translate Jackie’s (played by EJ Raymond) sign language and hearing actors use a mix of sign and spoken English throughout.
It is an extremely powerful production and like nothing I’ve ever seen before — the use of sign language aside (a first for me), I have never seen a play capture with such rawness, humour and sadness, the difficulties women face throughout their lives.
Teenage pregnancy, career prioritisation and single motherhood are at the heart of the story, but countless other issues are cleverly glanced over in conversation — Great-grandmother Doris (Ali Briggs) tells her daughter Margaret (Jude Mahon) she should be “grateful” her husband had never hit her, despite living in an unhappy marriage for decades.
Briggs wonderfully portrays women of the “put up and shut up” era, while her carefree, activist granddaughter Rosie (Lisa Kelly) is able to declare she doesn’t want children.
Nursery rhymes sung by the women as their childhood selves with lines such as “little girls being sugar and spice and all things nice” also show how women are defined by stereotypes from birth.
Throughout the women’s lives, a deep family secret is constantly bubbling under the surface, which left me gripped.
But there is also a lot of humour and I am sure audiences will be able to recognise so much of their own mums, sisters, aunties and grandmothers in the show.
The studio theatre is often home to hidden gems and this is one of my favourite shows I’ve seen all year.
I’d jump at the chance of watching again, particularly if it was brought right up to the modern day.
My Mother Said I Never Should will be at the studio theatre until next Saturday,
Tickets cost £20 and are available at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.