5 minutes with Jeni Draper, director of My Mother Said I Never Should…

4 Feb 2020 News


“My Mother said I never should, play with gypsies in the wood, if I did she would say, naughty girl to disobey!”

– words from Charlotte Keatley’s contemporary classic, My Mother Said I Never Should, which have been brought to life by countless actors since it was first written in the 1980s. Now, fingersmiths – a visual, physical theatre company which provides a platform for d/Deaf actors to present work in sign language, are bringing a fully accessible production of the show to THE New Wolsey Theatre. Artistic Director of fingersmiths, Jeni Draper, had a chat about sign language, body language and themes that never age.


Why did you choose My Mother Said I Never Should to direct?

‘I always look for a play that has a great narrative, and one that I can put the fingersmiths spin on. In this case, it’s a story about four generations of women in one family which was written in the 1980’s for a mainstream hearing audience – so I posed the question of: what if we made them a Deaf family? This was a great opportunity to showcase some Deaf history over a 50-year period. This play also allowed us to take a look at language and how the d/Deaf community communicate, and how sign language and Deaf communication can change in half a century. My Mother Said I Never Should is very well known in the hearing world, but the Deaf community don’t have the opportunity to get to know it because it’s never been done like this before – it’s been translated into about 22 languages but this is the first time it’s been done with British Sign Language.’

What’s been the most enjoyable part of bringing this show to the stage?

‘To start, I love casting and I was quite clear about who I wanted for three of the roles, and have then been very lucky to audition younger actors for one of the roles. I think casting Lisa [Kelly] as Rosie is particularly exciting, this is her stage debut and she’s with amazing role models in the Deaf community – whether it’s the actors she’s with, or the consultants working on the show. I’m also finding it so exciting working with Charlotte Keatley, she’s been so generous with her text and investing in our ideas. I was initially quite scared because it’s Charlotte Keatley and this show is what she’s most known for! But we’re making adaptations to it to suit the languages, and we’ve had to make some changes and additions – all of which Charlotte has totally bought into. It’s been really lovely working with her, she’s so on-board and is so trusting of us with her work.’

Why is it important that this production is happening now?

‘Because there isn’t enough work like this! I hope that by choosing a mainstream play that any director could (and regularly does) pick, shows that with minimal effort you can work with d/Deaf actors. Work should be accessible, we’re in 2019 and people are dismissing a whole group of people who currently don’t think theatre is for them. We at fingersmiths are a tiny theatre company, but I can relax here with Sheffield Theatres producing this show, and I can work to create something that d/Deaf audiences can enjoy. I have amazing actors here with me, who will hopefully inspire anyone who comes to see us to want to work with them.’

Are there any shows yet to be presented in BSL and spoken English that you’d love to see done?

‘I am DESPERATE to do a Shakespeare! I won’t say which one, but I have a killer idea. I want to continue doing some of the classic pieces, ones that I think can transpose to having a deaf flavour without it being shoehorned in. It’s great when theatres employ a d/Deaf actor – it’s a great start to access, but I become more interested when a company has two of more d/Deaf actors as it gives you a reason to understand why sign language is being used, it definitely brings up a deeper engagement.’

Why should people come and see My Mother Said I Never Should?

‘It’s a modern classic that’s over 30 years old, but the more we unpack it, the more it feels as relevant as it ever has done. The themes are universal. Everybody knows a mother, is a mother, has had a mother, has a daughter, knows a daughter, is a daughter – that dynamic exists everywhere and can sometimes be a really rocky road. There’s great journey in the play, we see how families develop and how their habits work – those tiny habits that are passed through generations without anyone really noticing, everyone has those gestures or movements that have been passed from generation to generation. It’s a very emotional play, and in rehearsals we were all finding we were connected to it in some way – whether that’s grief, personal relationships with your family, not having a child or being able to have one, and it also deals with some mega issues; we have teenage pregnancy within it and the youngest character is a little eco-warrior making banners for climate change. It also talks a lot about women’s fight for equality over 50 years, we start with pre-women’s liberation and end up with not only women, but Deaf women running their own businesses. This isn’t a ‘happy ever after’ play, it leaves on a note of hope but we’ve seen the women in it struggle their way through life.’

My Mother Said I Never Should is at the New Wolsey Theatre from Thursday 13 – Friday 14th February. Tickets are on sale now and available from the New Wolsey Box Office in-person, on the phone at 01473 295900 or online HERE.