Maureen, mothers and me

By Tracy-Ann Oberman, November 20, 2012

This week's column is going to be about mums. But, before I get pinned to the wall of a bakery in Temple Fortune again, allow me to emphasise that it is NOT about Jewish mums. No. I'm leaving that hot potato well alone (although I do have plenty to say on the subject, which I will save for another time.) My working life these past few months has been centred on the subject of mothering and I must say that it has been very illuminating.

I am currently in rehearsal at the Hampstead Theatre for a new play called Old Money. It is about how much responsibility a mother should take for her daughter and, in turn, for her own mother.

It is always exciting working on a new play, as it is a constantly evolving and changing beast. Nothing is set, nobody knows how it will work. It's like making a cake for the first time with a basic recipe when you need to improvise and add ingredients and guess the measurements. It's all a bit trial-and-error.

Only when you get to the first preview, and the play is up in front of an audience, do you know whether what you have made is a gooey soggy pudding, a triumphant, iced, multi-layered extravaganza, or a Pesach plava, a bit meh. It's all part of the discovery of new characters in a new terrain.

What is adding extra spice to this particular rehearsal process is the cast. I cannot remember the last time I saw, let alone was in, a play that was led by the female characters. And even more jaw-dropping is the fact that these central female characters range from the ages of 42 to 82. Brilliant.

In a world where most women past 35 are airbrushed out of the public arena, deemed past it, this play is remarkable just for having the balls to buck that trend.

I am also working once again with the brilliant Maureen Lipman, whom I could quite happily watch reading the A-Z aloud, as she is so inventive and precise. It's like a master-class every day. She plays my mother, and we have a wonderful actress to play her mother. So the generational subject of daughters, mothers and grandmothers is the premise.

It has made me question what it is that we expect from our parents and what parents expect from their children. It seems to be very much the zeitgeist topic.

I have friends who quite happily expect to live off the Bank Of Mum and Dad. They argue that their baby- boomer parents had it good, living in an age where property was cheap, mortgages were plentiful and opportunity was everywhere.

It was an easier age, where work was available and pretty much stopped at 6pm. The 24- hour buzzing of a Blackberry was a sci-fi nightmare. The character of my mother in the play, a woman in her mid-60s, grudgingly looks after her grandchildren and her own mother, while observing her hardworking and stressed daughter.

Her generation may have had husbands who could provide but they themselves were often denied the chance to experience life, get a higher education or have a career. Who fared better?

Last updated: 10:45am, November 20 2012