She Called Me Mother by Michelle Inniss - review

Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 1:09 PM | Review by: Michael Scott-Harding | Afridiziak Star Rating:
She Called Me Mother starring Cathy Tyson Cathy Tyson and Chereen Buckley, She Called Me Mother - Image credit: Richard Davenport

This is a story of surviving – and breaking free of – physical and sexual abuse. It is about the repeated abuse of females by men, and the stories that many women tell themselves – or indeed drown out – before they can break these cycles.

We first meet ‘Evangeline Josephine Gardner’ (Cathy Tyson) selling newspapers at London Bridge Station. She is an older black woman of advancing age, wandering focus, and – until very recently – no fixed abode.


How did she get here? What is her story? She seems happy enough to tell us.


As she starts her first monologue, we get the impression of her having been down-and-out for some time. Despite – or maybe because of - her fragile mental-state, she seems somewhat accepting of her situation; as she continues talking, we begin to understand why.


We hear her tell tales of life with her mother back in Trinidad, of her husband (‘Rodney’) here in England, of her existence on the street, and – most importantly - of her love (turned to neglect and abandonment) for her long-lost daughter, ‘Shirley’ (Chereen Buckley).


It is this daughter that appears in the flesh after about 20 minutes and who tells her side of the story, first in monologue form then - as the stakes get higher – as a counterpoint to Evangeline’s outpourings.


We hear how Shirley - having been abused by her father from the age of 13 -finally confides in her mother (Evangeline) the day before her 16th birthday. Unfortunately, her mother, having been beaten into submission for many years, doesn’t – or cannot – believe her daughter. So starts a chain of events that includes Shirley leaving home, becoming embroiled in a similarly abusive relationship, and having 2 children; on Evangeline’s side - it culminates in her literally walking away from her former life (and all its attendant memories) in favour of a life on the street.


She Called Me Mother starring Cathy Tyson She Called Me Mother starring Cathy Tyson - Image credit: Richard Davenport

It is story about ‘shame’, and about not having the vocabulary - emotional or otherwise - to let go of it.

In the last scene, we get the longed-for meeting/reconciliation between them. Interestingly enough, by the time it arrives, most of the information has already been gleaned, making the expected emotional catharsis seem slightly muted.


Both ladies are good in contrasting roles. Miss Tyson does a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’; her monologues are both denser and longer and - while she does a creditable job - the play comes alive when Ms Buckley interacts with her. This is partly due to the fact that ‘Shirley’, although emotionally ravaged, is – unlike ‘Evangeline’ – still quite sane (thus giving the audience a more relatable presence with whom to empathise).


She Called Me Mother starring Cathy Tyson She Called Me Mother starring Cathy Tyson - Image credit: Richard Davenport

The set and sound designs – evoking London Bridge Station - are deceptively simple, intriguing, and effective, while the lighting is similarly complimentary.


This is a story of surviving – and breaking free of – physical and sexual abuse. It is about the repeated abuse of females by men, and the stories that many women tell themselves – or indeed drown out – before they can break these cycles.


It is a play concerned with recognising the ‘sins of the fathers’, and the crosses of the mothers in order to avoid further suffering (of children and adults alike).
It is story about ‘shame’, and about not having the vocabulary - emotional or otherwise - to let go of it.



It is a story worth telling and – for the most part - it is told well.



Info: She Called Me Mother is on national tour until November 21, 2015 / See listing




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