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She Called Me Mother at Stratford Circus – Review

Cathy Tyson and Chereen Buckley
Cathy Tyson and Chereen Buckley
Photo by Richard Davenport

Something like 1 in 3 marriages these days end in divorce. It’s a sad statistic but it goes to show that for some people, the marriage vows are not as permanent as they could be. However, for others, those vows, stated before God, are immutable and no matter what occurs, their marriage will remain whole – ‘till death do we part’. This a theme which playwright Michelle Inniss explores superbly in She Called Me Mother currently playing at Stratford Circus.

In an arch under London Bridge station, Evangeline (Cathy Tyson) is selling the Big Issue. Evangeline is no stereotypical homeless person, she is an elegant lady. Her clothes may be tatty and dirty but there is a grace and style about them and her demeanour is one of welcoming happiness, savouring the sights and sounds around her, rather than a sullen resentment at the place where her life has taken her. The reason for this is made clear fairly quickly. One of the recent purchasers of her magazine, was a young lady about who, Evangeline says “she smile was big and open, like the Trinidadian sun” and who had called Evangeline ‘mother’. This pleased Evangeline so much as it had been many, many years since her own daughter Shirley (Chereen Buckley) had called her that as, following a major row, she walked out of the family home forever. Evangeline talks to the audience directly, explaining her life back home in Trinidad with her husband – a very traditional man who believed a woman’s place was in the home and that home was his castle where his word was law. It was the husband that insisted the family move to England and the husband who decided it was time for Shirley to leave her mother’s side and go to school, and it was the husband who felt that he could do whatever he wanted with his possessions, all of them. Through all of this Evangeline has stood by her wedding vows, even to the point of causing an estrangement between her and Shirley. Shirley herself has a story to tell and the two characters take it in turn to relay their own lives to the audience, the highs and the lows, until the fateful time when the ladies meet once more.

In She Called Me Mother, Michelle Innis has written an absolutely superb story which cannot fail to move anyone lucky enough to see it. The story itself is complex in its simplicity and it would be so easy for those watching to judge Evangeline and offer her advice on what she should do, but at the same time, you know it would be pointless. Evangeline has her belief in God combined with a moral code that she lives by and nobody is going to shake that out of her no matter how dark things get in her and her family’s lives.

Designer Amelia Jane Hankin keeps the set simple, a scaffold box with lights hanging down, a chair in the middle and an old fashioned wheeled basket next to it. Evangeline’s clothing hints at a former grandeur whilst Shirley is dressed in a simple and contemporary manner, everything is muted but correct. Similarly, Director Cara Nolan does not move the actresses about too much, which considering Evangeline’s age and occupation makes a lot of sense but also means that the audience can concentrate on the dialogue delivered by two absolutely outstanding actresses. I will be honest and say I was slightly worried before I arrived as I had read that the play was being delivered in the Trinidadian vernacular and was afraid I would miss some of it. I needn’t have worried as, even without the helpful dictionary in the programme, Cathy Tyson conveyed every word and emotion of the script beautifully. I loved Evangeline from the first moment to the last and was amazed at how articulate and intelligent the character was – an example of my own unconscious bias at its worst I’m afraid – and Cathy was simply amazing at bringing her to life and making her such a believable person that I could hear members of the audience agreeing with some of her observations and home spun wisdom. Chereen Buckley was a perfect foil to Cathy. Starting gently in the background, Chereen told Shirley’s story in a simple and highly effective way, talking through her life after leaving her parents, at times repeating and learning from her mother’s life and when the two of them met up I for one was cheering inside at the thought of the two ladies being finally reconciled. However, the ending itself took me completely by surprise – even though with hindsight it made perfect sense – and left me a complete emotional wreck.

To summarise, She Called Me Mother was an absolutely brilliant show. The combination of superb writing and truly amazing performances from two fantastically talented actresses make this an awesome show that will stay with me for a long time.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Evangeline is waiting, she has been waiting a long time. She waits for the Black Swan to glide through the station and show her a little warmth and kindness. She waits for Shirley the daughter she let walk away all those years ago. Will her daughter ever return to her and can Shirley ever forgive the mother that let her go?

BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated Cathy Tyson is best known for her stage work with the RSC, the Liverpool Everyman and on film in Mona Lisa (1986) starring alongside Bob Hoskins.

Pitch Lake Productions is a new, all-female Nottingham based theatre production company that aims to bring unheard voices and untold stories to the stage.

Duration: 90 minutes (no interval)
Age Guidance: 14+ due to adult themes
8th – 11th Oct Stratford Circus Arts Centre, London
Theatre Square, Stratford, London E15 1BX
www.stratford-circus.com | 0844 357 2625
National Tour 8th October – 21st November 2015
She Called Me Mother National Tour Dates


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