Even with the surtitles (or captions, as the captions provider StageTEXT likes to call them), not everything is entirely clear in this production of My Mother Said I Never Should, a show I only went to see as it has been recommended to me by various theatregoers over the years, and I kept missing them – even a production at St James’ Theatre in London (now The Other Palace) came and went before I had a chance to check it out. On the National Express coach up (because, you know, the trains can no longer be trusted and are not nearly as cost-efficient as road travel), I was reading about floods that had affected Yorkshire: Sheffield itself was well protected by miscellaneous defences, but elsewhere, villages were suffering bigtime.
Anyway, Jackie (EJ Raymond) communicates primarily in British Sign Language, being D/deaf. Everyone else – Doris (Ali Briggs), Rosie (Lisa Kelly) and Margaret (Jude Mahon) regularly engage in BSL too, though we have the captions and the spoken word as well. Not too much is lost whenever Jackie signs without corresponding captions – either someone else will say what she’s just signed, or else it is entirely possible to get the gist of it from the way the conversation is nonetheless flowing. I found rather ingenious, and without wanting to come across like a patronising twat, it must be a little taster of what it is like for someone hard of hearing to comprehend what is being when people with reasonable levels of hearing are conversing amongst themselves.
Slightly confusingly, at other times Jackie can be ‘heard’, thanks to the voice of Genevieve Barr. On occasion the ‘actual’ Jackie can be heard too, usually when frustrated or upset or having an outburst – but the point is well made: one way or another, she struggles to get her points across. Raymond is an excellent actor, such that sometimes no translation is even necessary thanks to the sheer expressions of emotion.
But it doesn’t help that the story isn’t in straightforward chronological order, and despite the use of projections, each location looks pretty much the same as all the others. Some scenes are set in Cheadle Hulme, which is closer to Stockport (unless I’m reading Google Maps incorrectly) but is apparently classed as being in Manchester, and others (according to the script) in Raynes Park, southwest London, though frankly those scenes could have been anywhere down south.
The show’s critical incident arises out of that protective trait people have, in this case towards a daughter – information is withheld in order not to hurt the younger one’s feelings but when she finds out what the cold, hard facts are, it hurts all the more than it would have done if she’d been told in the first place, rather than when she was older and therefore more (allegedly) capable emotionally and psychologically speaking. Act One, coming in at 85 minutes, could have been a little pacier – the more comfortable 45-minute Act Two is riveting to the core.
After a while, though, one almost forgets about all the captions and the sign language, gripped by an oftentimes poignant storyline about four generations of women trying to live their lives as best they can in the different circumstances of their times. It’s relatable, at least to some extent, for many people – though not for me, as I had such a dysfunctional upbringing I was rarely spoken to with the civility and love that these characters have for one another. There are some difficult choices to be made in life, and the non-judgemental approach taken here leaves the audience with a generous serving of food for thought.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.