Tag Archives: Katie Brayben

“My Mother Said I Never Should” at the St James Theatre

Charlotte Keatley’s acclaimed play was one of the first I ever saw, leaving a profound impression that, I’m pleased to say, is retained by this revival. The story of four women from one family, the action covers most of the 20th century and uses a non-chronological structure that was once regarded as radical. Going backwards and forwards in time has made the play influential. More importantly, this time-travelling technique elevates an interesting domestic drama into something extra special.

Flitting through the decades makes the women’s shared experiences bristle with connections. Family and motherhood link them, while their marriages and experience of work differ. This is the first production from a new company, Tiny Fires, led by producer Tara Finney and director Paul Robinson. Clearly excited by the prestige of the piece, history is emphasised – fair enough – and the ‘progress’ for women is examined carefully. But I’d argue this isn’t the heart of the play. There’s too much focus on generational differences rather than similarities here.

Katie Brayben & Serena Manteghi
Katie Brayben & Serena Manteghi

What can’t be disputed is that, by showing the women throughout their lives, Keatley created four remarkable roles for performers. Serena Manteghi and Katie Brayben take on the younger parts, full of energy and angst. And ably stepping into the role of Margaret mid-production is Hilary Tones (replacing Caroline Faber). The star casting comes with Maureen Lipman in the role of Doris. Given Lipman’s skills, it’s no surprise that comedy leaps to the fore (there are lessons that Manteghi and Brayben will surely learn). But there’s more than laughs here. Remember, the role goes from infancy to old age and, at the conclusion, Lipman switches from a great-grandmother to a young fiancée – the phrase tour de force could have been invented for her character.

Yet more astounding, it’s the quieter, emotional scenes that Lipman pulls out the stops for, highlighting the pervasive repression that Keatley writes of. Churlish as it sounds, Lipman’s achievement unbalances the show. Doris does have many of the best lines, but all four characters share the quality of having “no sense of compromise” and this could come across more clearly. It’s a small flaw that doesn’t stop all four women, precisely defined, convey themes that have that often-searched-for quality of timelessness in a play that is both compelling and moving.

Until 21 May 2016


Photo courtesy Savannah Photographic

“Beautiful” at the Aldwych Theatre

Advice about writing reviews includes avoiding overused adjectives. Top of the list is hilarious… beautiful comes next. So, it’s a bad sign when a show has such an inane moniker. There are joyous moments in this biography of singer-songwriter Carole King – her back catalogue ensures that – but they are few and far between, leaving me mystified as to the show’s acclaim. Maybe the aim was to be beautifully simple – instead it is simply boring.

The cast of Beautiful performs well. The four leads sound great, especially Katie Brayben as King and Alan Morrissey, who plays her husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin. The ensemble takes on cameos of the stars and bands that performed King and Goffin hits with a good deal of spirit. The problem is with the book. Douglas McGrath pays only lip service to the changing times of the Sixties, while King’s life story is ticked off like a list.

Precocious teenager Carol writes a hit song. Meets a boy and writes some more hit songs. Breaks up with the boy and writes her best stuff yet. There just isn’t enough going on. Another song-writing couple, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, joins in, and McGrath makes their similarly humdrum story not just a foil but a focus. Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh, as the more spirited and humorous Weil and Mann, end up more appealing than the show’s real subjects.

The hit factory at 1650 Broadway that they all work in is the setting, under the management of Donnie Kirshner (Gary Trainor does well with this thinly-written role). The atmosphere is strangely amiable, maybe writing just wasn’t a struggle for King – I can believe it given her talent – but it turns the show into more of a CV than a story. Goffin’s adultery and nervous breakdown are downbeat: King didn’t have a nice marriage, then she got a haircut and everything was OK.

Performances of the songs by anyone else aren’t allowed to outshine King’s so they are presented, if not performed, as frigid relics – a problem since they make up most of the show. Which means Beautiful doesn’t even work as a jukebox musical. When we get to King’s success, someway into the second act, the story of Tapestry, her Grammy award-winning album, feels truncated. Any idea of her growing into a performer or her life feeding into her art, have no time to develop. Her achievements in this telling aren’t worth waiting for, which is as bad as a biography can get.

Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg