FELICITY Houlbrooke plays Rosie, the youngest of four generations of one family, in Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday.

Written in 1985, Keatley’s domestic drama is the most commonly performed work by a female playwright worldwide and has been translated into 22 languages.

“Funnily enough, I’d never seen it before landing the role, but I studied it on my English Literature course at Sheffield University a decade ago,” says Rosie. “At the time, we were dong a play a week, so we had to cram it in as part of a contemporary play module.”

Set in Manchester, Oldham and London, My Mother Said ...is a poignant, bittersweet story of love, jealousy and the price of freedom, detailing the lives of four women through the immense social changes of the 20th century.

Using a kaleidoscopic time structure, Keatley’s story focuses on the four generations as they confront the most significant moments of their lives. In 1940, Doris, a former teacher, encourages her nine-year-old daughter Margaret to mind her manners and practise the piano. In 1969, Margaret’s relationship with her own daughter is strained, as art student Jackie experiments with her new-found sexual freedom. When Jackie becomes pregnant at 18 and has baby Rosie, a decision is made that will affect all their lives irrevocably.

“Reading the play, when the script is put in front of you, what strikes you is how the scenes all inform each other; you really notice the links,” says Felicity, who is joined in artistic director Michael Cabot’s cast by Carole Dance (Doris), Connie Walke (Margaret) and Kathryn Ritchie (Jackie). “The characters are so vivid that when you read it, they really leap off the page. They’re very fully formed and in your face.

“The mother-daughter relationship is something that women can relate to, regardless of where you have come from, but not just mothers and daughters but also the larger family. Charlotte Keatley shines a light on what it’s like to be a woman but she also reveals a lot from a male perspective too.

“It’s a very affecting story and people take different things from it, from their own relationships, and you can see how things repeat themselves through the generations, such as there's a difference in how a grandmother treats her granddaughter to how she treats her daughter.

"But at the heart of the story is love and wanting the best for your daughter, but in trying to bring that about, there are tensions and misunderstandings."

My Mother Said...is written in three acts and it is up to the director to choose where the interval should fall. "It was Michael's decision to have the break after the first act, and there are various reasons for that, but principally it does seem to have a kaleidoscopic effect, because. sitting there after the interval, the audience really feel connected to the characters in Act Two."

Felicity plays Rosie, the youngest character, from the age of eight to her 16th birthday. "So she has the narrowest age range to be played, but even in that short time, complications in how she relates to Margaret and Jackie build up," she says.

It is not the first time Felicity has been called on to play a character younger than she is. "I was in the ensemble company for The Railway Children [the London transfer of York Theatre Royal director Damian Cruden's award-winning production of E Nesbit's story at the National Railway Museum} at Waterloo station and then played Roberta in the final three months at King's Cross and had the most lovely time," she says.

She is also making her return to York Theatre Royal, having been the understudy for the role of Anne Frank in the Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Theatre Royal production of The Diary Of Anne Frank in February 2012: another young part, of course.

London Classic Theatre presents Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, York Theatre Royal, November 20 to 24, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk