My Mother Said I Never Should
Act 1 scene 1 begins in the ‘waste ground’ setting, where Doris, Margaret, Jackie and Rosie are all present, and are all children in their respective generations, each wearing clothes typical of their time period. The waste ground is the only setting where all four characters are seen together, and gives the audience the opportunity to see all the characters as equals, and we gain an insight into their personality traits such as Jackie’s wildness and Margaret’s insecurities from this early on.
The first scene shows the four children, Jackie and Margaret are age 9, Doris is age 5, and Rosie is 8 playing together. They begin by singing “My Mother Said I Never Should”, before discussing Jackie introduces the idea of killing their mothers. The others are less enthusiastic, and Jackie, after daring each character, conspires with Rosie to eliminate the two others from their plans. Doris runs off crying after being called a ‘baby’ by the other three, Rosie shocks Margaret by telling her that she could get pregnant without getting married, and then, after being suggested by Jackie, the remaining three characters try to “call up the spirit of Granny”. After seeing something, all three are frightened, and run away.
Scene 2 is set in 1940, in Chendle Hulme, where Doris is 40, and Margaret is 9. Doris is dusting the piano while singing, and is unaware that her daughter, Margaret is playing with ‘Sukey’- her doll, under it. Doris shows little encouragement and doesn’t participate in any jokes, or activities that Margaret does, and ignores some questions:
Margaret ……What happens when you die?
Doris (long pause) I’ll bring you some cocoa presently.
Doris disapproves of her swinging in rhythm to the piano, and implies that she isn’t good enough, and that she should “be on Beethoven by now”. Doris seems ashamed of not having Christmas decorations or an Anderson Shelter, and leaves Margaret under the piano.
Jackie is now under the piano, and questions Doris as to why Margaret used to be there as a child. Doris again, avoids answering, yet is more enthusiastic to spend time with her granddaughter, showing the contrast to how Margaret and Jackie are treated by Doris. Doris is patient when Jackie breaks a mug, and instead of shouting, breaks two more, and even tells Jackie of her disapproval for her own daughter. It then links back to the beginning of the scene with Margaret as a child, when Doris again brings in cocoa for her, but she is gone.
Scene 3 takes place in the waste ground, this time with only Doris and Rosie as children. They play doctors and nurses, and discuss their primitive ideas about sex and relationships after they hear that their mother has ‘the curse’.
Scene 4 shows the relationship between Margaret and Jackie, after Jackie has been to a party, and tells her mother that she has had sex. Jackie is very laid back, in contrast to her mother, and leaves the scene to phone her boyfriend. After she leaves, Margaret’s short monologue is nostalgic, as she reminisces about a secret admirer that she had, and a possible affair.
Scene 5 is set in 1961, in Doris’s garden. She is 61, Margaret is 30 and Jackie is 9.Doris has an offstage conversation with Jack, one of the men we never see, and then Jackie and Margaret enter. It becomes clear that Margaret has been in a “guest house’ and it is suggested that she has had a miscarriage ‘you would never have lost the baby.” Jackie tells her mother that she played with her doll, and Margaret, upset because of the possible miscarriage, lashes out at Jackie, upsetting her. The stage directions then show her attempting to distract herself ‘busying herself with the painting’.
In scene 6, we see Jackie in 1971 attempting to cope with her daughter Rosie, who is 3 months old. Jackie shouts at Rosie when she cries, yet then comforts her, and we see Jackie’s caring, mothering side “Sleep, beautiful…shh…” Margaret arrives and immediately disapproves “It’s not locked!”, “You’ve been smoking”. Margaret collects up the baby things, and shows how unsupportive she is of her daughter by saying “you had no idea! I told you, I told you!” and “Didn’t you believe me?” Jackie grows angry at her mother’s discouragement, and pride that she was right, and panics at the thought of Rosie not knowing who her real mother is. Margaret persuades Jackie that she will raise Rosie as her own daughter, without Rosie’s knowledge. Jackie’s monologue reveals how much she does care for her daughter, and in the final lines, shows real regret “Rosie! Come back!” Margaret’s monologue follows, and we see her confusion, comparing Rosie to Jackie as a baby.
Scene 7 is back in 1951, with Doris age 51 and Margaret age 20. They discuss the war, and Margaret mentions that Ken is in the army, and how they will be moving together to London. Margaret says how she may be getting a job, and Doris disapproves, saying “What do you call running a home?” They talk about relationships and the future, and Doris mentions how she once had a job, before Ken interrupts by pressing the car horn, prompting an argument about the suitability of Margaret’s partner.
Scene 8 is again in the waste ground setting, with Jackie and Rosie. We discover that Jackie has been to ‘the boys’ den’ and kissed one of them in order to get her penknife back. Rosie feels betrayed by Jackie breaking her promise, yet immediately after they argue, they make another promise by cutting their fingers and repeating a rhyme.
Scene 9 is a phone call between Doris and Margaret on the same day as scene 6. Margaret is trying, rather unsuccessfully to conceal the fact that Jackie was pregnant and that she is now looking after the baby “I was just seeing to… (Distant Rosie cries)…to Ken.” Doris is suspicious, and talks only about Jackie on the phone, despite Margaret’s attempts to change the subject. Margaret shows her frustration at Jackie at the end of the phone call and her dislike of having to lie to protect her “Jackie, what are you doing to me…?”
Scene 10 is set in 1979 on Rosie’s 8th birthday. Rosie’s monologue begins the scene, and she talks of burying Sukey because ‘Eight is too old for doll’s” and wants to replace her with a” sex pistols tee shirt”. She talks to Sukey before Jackie enters with the birthday cake. Rosie compares Jackie to her mother, and then Margaret enters. Rosie shows her admiration for his ‘sister’ by remembering exactly how long it had been since she last saw her, and by sticking up for her in an argument. However, she shows her actual preference when giving her painting to Margaret instead of Jackie. While Rosie is off-stage, Margaret tries to persuade Jackie that she should get married and have children, and when Rosie comes back on stage, Jackie shows her concern for her by shouting at her to be careful near roads. Rosie is upset, and rejects her real mother by leaving her on stage alone to find the buried doll. We see that Jackie’s maternal feelings have not disappeared; she clearly still longs after Rosie, and holds the sock that Rosie had when she was a baby.
Act two begins in 1982 as the four characters are clearing out Doris’s house after Jack has died. Rosie attempts to talk to her grandfather when she is alone. It becomes clear that Jack has left the house to Jackie, and that the rest of the characters are resentful “Mum and Gran were mega hurt”. Doris is particularly upset “It seems that sixty years of housewifery counted for nothing” and seems bitter and jealous while they other attempt to be more positive, without much success of lightening the mood. They discuss how rarely they see Jackie, and ironically, Rosie suggests it’s because “she’s got no kids”.
Margaret has spasms of pain, and whilst she blames it on the menopause, it is suggested that it is something more serious. We discover that Doris was illegitimate, and Jackie gets upset, as part of the reason she gave up Rosie was because she felt ashamed of the circumstances. There is further irony when Rosie says “You’re old enough to be my Mum! (Pause.) I’m glad you’re not. Jackie tells Doris that she intends on telling Rosie about her real mother, as soon as she turns sixteen, and Doris disapproves. Rosie and Doris talk around the piano, and Rosie tries to convince Doris that appearances are not important by smoothing her “wrinkles away” and looking at her reflection in the piano. Rosie opens a bag of old clothes of Jackie’s, and then the bag containing her own baby clothes. Act two closes with Doris’s monologue, as she’s talking to her late husband, before Rosie interrupts and leads her away.
Act 3 scene 1 is in 1987 with Doris and Margaret, aged 87 and 56. They mention that Jackie and Rosie are on holiday, and we discover that Ken may have left Margaret, though apparently not for “another woman”. Doris says that she, Margaret and Jackie had all expected too much from marriage and motherhood, and that happiness wasn’t necessarily guaranteed.
Scene 2 is set 4 days later in Margaret’s office. Rosie and Jackie enter, back from their holiday. Margaret lies to Rosie, saying that Ken has “gone away for the week” Rosie announces that although she “can’t think of anyone less like a mother”, she is going to live with Jackie in Manchester. Margaret is very negative, and like in Act one, scene 6, assumes Jackie is unfit to look after Rosie “It’s an adventure with you”. She is clearly jealous, and resents the fact that Rosie wants to live with her real mother “you can’t. Those are my years.”
Scene 3 is back in the wasteground, with all of the characters except Margaret. They pretend to be casting a spell to kill their mothers, and at the end of the scene, the shadowy figure of Margaret appears, as in the start of the play with Doris.
Scene 4 is Margaret’s monologue in hospital. She is clearly confused and deluded, and makes little sense, with occasional references to the first wasteground scene. Her confusion is illustrated with ellipses “My parents are called…Sticks and stones…When I have babies”.
In scene 5, set in 1987, Rosie and Jackie are in the garden of Ken and Margaret’s house. It becomes clear that Rosie resents Jackie for not being there when Margaret died. She is sarcastic and bitter “In case you want to know, she died at 6.20 last night”, and even avoids all physical contact. Rosie reveals she has discovered that Jackie is her real mother “So now I know”. Rosie is hostile and insulting, and Jackie retaliates by attempting to hit her, but stops herself. Jackie has a long speech where she tries to justify why she gave her daughter up; it is the first time Jackie has even been able to speak freely about it.
Scene 6 is again in the wasteground with Margaret and Jackie. They pretend to be crossing the “Golden River”. Jackie says that she has been rejected by “the others”, yet refuses to stay and hide with Margaret.
Scene 7 takes place in Doris’s cottage, when Rosie has moved in with her. Rosie is attempting to complete the solitaire game, and Doris enters with a kite that she and Rosie have been making. Doris refers to Jackie as Rosie’s mother, and Rosie seems far more comfortable with the concept than in scene 5. Doris shows her a letter from Jackie, written when Rosie was born. She throws the letter on the floor, but then retrieves it. She then completes the game. Jackie and Margaret appear upstage, and a kite flies up over Margaret.
Scene 8 is set in 1923. It is Doris’s monologue, where she talks of how Jack has just proposed to her, and how despite being promoted, she will have to give up her job to be a house-wife. She ends with the opinion that it is “really and truly…the beginning of [my] life!”