My Mother Said I Never Should/Malvern Theatres

AN absurdly overblown and virtually impenetrable programme article bloated with political shouty-group-think does this powerful play no justice whatsoever.

Assistant director Charlie Rogers’ fatuous piece of polemic seems to completely lose the point of Charlotte Keatley’s moving narrative tracing the lives of four women.

And it’s all the more ironic - bearing in mind that he’s a man - because that’s one particular gender you never see onstage, despite being the root cause of most of the characters’ misfortunes.

The action takes place in the last century against the backdrop of the slow march of progress experienced by the women in the piece.

Yet there’s not even a whiff of testosterone in the air, a deliberate ploy to keep our attention focused on the four protagonists. Nevertheless, the all-pervading male dominance is never far from the surface.

But although the quartet’s destiny seems to be pre-ordained in an institutionalised male world, you would be mistaken in thinking that the females are accepting of their lot.

There are indeed some extremely moving scenes, in particular the moment when Rosie (Felicity Houlbrooke) confronts Jackie (Kathryn Ritchie), the woman she had always believed was her sister, yet is actually her mother.

Carole Dance as Doris has the wisdom of a woman who has seen much and learnt even more, while Margaret (Connie Walker) tries to make sense of her marriage to safe but boring old Ken, a man who once promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver.

Keatley is a stunningly perceptive writer who has chronicled the experiences of ordinary women without resorting to hurling slogans or lunging for clichés.

Unfortunately, Bek Palmer’s set – a sort of cross between a bombsite and a concentration camp – ill serves the razor sharpness of Keatley’s powers of observation, thereby compounding the hopelessly verbose silliness of Rogers’ misleading article.

All the same, My Mother Said I Never Should makes for thoroughly absorbing theatre. It runs until Saturday (November 17).

John Phillpott