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Family problems

It's easy to see why Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should is becoming so popular in schools. It's as issue-packed as a whole series of Brookside; covering emergent feminism, class politics, inter-generational conflict, unmarried motherhood, the NorthSouth divide, even the impact of post World War I modernity.

But it remains a play, not a series of sociology lectures, and its focus on just four women, its lively dialogue and use of mime and song, its single, stylised set, and its slipping time scale remind the audience of the special intimacy of the stage, and just how much can be achieved there in a couple of hours.

A stage play, of course, must be watched to be fully appreciated, so many teachers will be glad of the opportunity to see the production at the Colchester Mercury. Seasoned BBC director Sue Wilson has been interested in the play since she directed Sharman McDonald's When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout in 1987.

When I Was a Girl is about two generations of women, and is often painfully evocative of the problems between mothers and daughters. Wilson sees My Mother Said, with its four generations, as offering even more scope to comment on women's family relationships and has a uniquely generous and optimistic perspective on them.

Wilson's focus is perception and misperception: the way one generation, particularly in this fast-changing century, will stereotype and refuse to understand the former and the next. She sees the changes in Doris, the Manchester matriarch struggling to understand her great-granddaughter Rosie, as the crux of the play.

In keeping with this interest in ageing and change, Wilson has recast two members of her team from When I Was a Girl. Jill Graham will take the crucial role of Doris, and Susie Baxter that of her sternly puritan daughter, Margaret, who brings up her daughter's child as her own. Wilson hopes they will bring experience and perspective to the demanding ensemble piece.

All the cast at some time play themselves as children, their echoing chants and games reflecting similarities in the ways generations of women are brought up. In Wilson's production, these games will take place in a symbolic wasteland centred on a found piece of graffitied sculpture that embodies the play's themes - a giant hand supporting a child.

For the interiors, designer Jill Amos is making use of surreal windows, through which narrow frames the characters will see and mis-see each other.

My Mother Said is occasionally attacked, usually by an outraged male reviewer, for being too angry or too focused on "trendy" contemporary dilemmas. Wilson's production, with its emphasis on relationships, promises to be subtle and multi-faceted, letting the many challenging issues within the play arise naturally and touch the emotions as well as the mind. Just in case anyone misses anything though, there will be discussions after the play particularly aimed at students.

Until April 29. Tickets: 0206 573948.

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