Review: My Mother Said I Never Should, London Classic Theatre, at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

CHARLOTTE Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should is the most commonly performed work by a female playwright worldwide, having been translated into 22 languages to boot. London Classic Theatre are staging it for the second time, artistic director Michael Cabot directing it once more, 18 years since the first production.

Written in 1985 and first performed in 1987, Keatley's domestic drama remains as pertinent and perceptive as ever, even if she could now add at least another generation to the four at the heart of the family frictions here. This is an ordinary family, from the north west, and from such ordinariness comes a raft of universal truths that emerge from 61 years of ups and downs that Keatley presents with challenging "emotional choreography" by jumbling up time because that mirrors how we may arrange history through emotional connection rather than chronologically.

Cabot's direction entrusts you to work out how the overlapping stories and complex intergenerational relationships link together over seven decades, stretching back to 1920 (shown at the very end, rather than the beginning). A familiar song introduces each new era, but the rest is left to Bek Palmer's costumes and how her outdoor yet indoor set is utilised in each scene, with furniture and contents stacked high, and a wartime shelter doubling as a piano.

Men are absent both physically and spiritually in this elegiac study of mother-daughter relationships and growing up amid 20th century social change. Women, by comparison, are always present, either there on Palmer's cluttered stage, or in the thoughts of the others, when absent.

As Keatley's three-act play moves between the dark games of childhood fantasy and the crushing secrets of adult reality in a story of our desires to love and be loved, we meet Doris (Carole Dance), the great grandmother who never does anything to change her situation in a loveless marriage; shrewish daughter Margaret (Connie Walker) and her hippie artist daughter Jackie (Kathryn Ritchie). Their constant arguing has such shattering consequences for Rosie (Felicity Houlbrooke), who is not so much a Rosie between two thorns as the frayed rope in a tug of war.

What strikes you most is how Keatley writes with empathy, rather than ranting rage, about the continuous cycle of expectation for women to be domestic goddesses, balancing work, children, home and marital bed: a cycle that can never be complete, she suggests. Alas, the men in their lives are feckless: Doris puts up with rejection within marriage; Margaret's husband leaves her; Jackie's boyfriends are always unsuitable; Rosie has no father figure.

However, Keatley starkly exposes the women's failings and faults too, especially the clash of mothers' expectations and daughters' hopes, captured so movingly by Cabot's excellent cast. In his programme notes, Cabot posits that "we judge ourselves by our motives, but other people by their actions". You might like to discuss that contention in the bar post-show.

My Mother Said I Never Should, London Classic Theatre, at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at