Tag Archives: Maureen Lipman

“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

“Daytona” at the Park Theatre

Still in its inaugural season, the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park saw its first première of a new play open last night. Daytona by Oliver Cotton is a clever three-hander, well written and superbly produced. The story of three elderly Jewish emigrants to America, set in 1986, it sees a married couple’s well-ordered life disrupted by the unexpected return of a brother who had disappeared 30 years earlier. Arriving with the announcement that he has killed a war criminal while on holiday in Florida, he reopens wounds, both personal and political, posing moral dilemmas rich in dramatic potential.

Cotton is well known as a performer, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that he has written such wonderful roles. Under the skilful direction of David Grindley (fast becoming one of my favourites, given his excellent The American Plan currently at the St James Theatre), the performances here are truly accomplished. Surely, naturalism like this is only achieved with experience – the characters talk rather than recite, despite lengthy speeches that take us on a journey into the past. John Bowe plays charismatic, mellifluous-voiced Billy, whose return creates such shockwaves. His brother Joe is a retired accountant whose inner strength is revealed in a detailed performance from Harry Shearer. Completing the triangle is Elli, the marvellous Maureen Lipman, cleverly playing with stereotypes of the Jewish wife and injecting a steely tone that’s perfect for the play’s many surprises.

Elli and Joe make a great couple, not perfect – you can insert a shoulder shrug here – but, despite the trauma in their lives, their story is one of carrying on. Persistence, elevated to the point of a memorial to all their pain, makes Daytona an affirming play. And yet most of its power comes from the acting. For all its adroitness, Cotton’s text seems brief, leaving too many loose ends to satisfy. But the ambition to present an elderly trio as our sole concern is executed superbly. With theatre often obsessed with youth, it’s a welcome and original move.

Until 18 August 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 18 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“Old Money” at the Hampstead Theatre

Old Money, a new play by Sarah Wooley, marks the end of a fantastic year for Hampstead Theatre. Taking on this young writer is to Artistic Director Edward Hall’s credit; he’s spotted a quirky talent and a play full of fun, with serious points, that maybe a little rough around the edges, but is well worth watching. And that’s not to mention its star attraction – Maureen Lipman in fine form and not to be missed.

The story of three generations of women, Pearl, Joyce and Fiona, is rife with humorous conflict and includes a slight touch of fantasy. An unhealthy family triangle is complicated when Joyce becomes a widow and embraces her new freedom by making friends with a stripper. There have been plenty of dramas about baby boomers lately, but Wooley seems more interested in simply telling a good story – this is a tale of the unexpected and hugely entertaining.

It is not without problems. Everyone touched by the old money Joyce married into seems pretty objectionable – their selfishness seems hard to believe. And surely even the suburbs of Surrey aren’t quite as sheltered as Wooley makes out? The matriarch Faith’s hold over her daughter is dubious, while Joyce’s own spendthrift child Fiona seems bitter because she lives in a maisonette in Colliers Wood – bad, but not unbearable. As for the men in the piece, you start to suspect Wooley has some axe to grind in making them all so useless and unpleasant. But the problems aren’t all from Wooley’s script; surprisingly, the experienced director Terry Johnson seems flat-footed and fails to keep up the pace the play deserves.

However, Wooley’s humour is spot on, with plenty of laughs and observations that ring true. Best of all, the performances in Old Money are superb. Helen Ryan is a crowd-pleasing termagant and Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as a grasping 40-something. Of course, it’s Lipman’s show and her character’s journey to fulfil long-delayed dreams, battling against various roles she is forced into, is performed wonderfully. The perfect comic timing we expect is there accompanied by breathless pauses and hesitations that show Lipman is in total control. Joyce isn’t an inspiring figure, the play is too complex for that, but Lipman makes her, and the play, very much alive.

Until 12 January 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 6 December 2012 for The London Magazine