Too Many Mothers





I don’t often get to the theatre, which is ridiculous as I live in London’s West End where every show is on my doorstep – but lack of time and money seem to collude to keep me away from the dramatic arts.  But last night I saw a great show – a new play called Reunion by playwright John Caine with really extraordinary performances by Peter Guinness and Roberta Taylor.

Here with a little blurb on each of them:
Peter Guinness is a hugely respected stage and screen actor. His recent theatre credits include; The Pianist (Manchester International Festival, Royal Exchange Theatre and Hong Kong Festival) and Reading Hebron (Orange Tree Theatre). He has recently been seen on television in: Hidden, Zen, New Tricks, Ashes to Ashes, Silent Witness, Kipling: A Remembrance Tale, The Bill and Bleak House whilst his film work includes roles in Secret Passage, Greenfingers, Conclave, Sleepy Hollow, Christopher Columbus: the Discovery and Aliens 3.

Roberta Taylor has a rich and varied career in theatre and television and is probably best known for her work on Eastenders as Irene Hills and her portrayal of Gina Gold in The Bill. Her stage roles have included seasons at The RSC and Glasgow Citizens Theatre as well as parts at The Royal Exchange and in the West End.

I have been friends with Pete and Rob for several years now, and my few outings to the theatre usually involve seeing them individually in various notable productions, but I have never seen them work together and they were mesmerising playing a husband and wife facing the ethical and judicial dilemma of assisted suicide after the husband has been diagnosed with and incurable degenerative disease. 

But I first got to know Roberta through her writing.  When I first met her about five or six years ago, I had been a fan of her acting for a decade, following her from Eastenders on, but when we sat next to each other at a mutual friend’s party, we talked about writing autobiography, and her then recently published memoir Too Many Mothers (2005).

This wonderful book is miles away from the celebrity tell-all that you might expect from the rather un-literary cover image.  In fact, I won’t be giving anything away to say that it ends well before the young Roberta has any inkling of her future career, and not much hope of any kind of success at all. Too Many Mothers tells a true story set in south London in the 1950s, at once more intriguing and more shocking that any soap opera, of a family at war with itself and the outside world. From petty crime to pet monkeys, tender romance to emotional blackmail, illegitimacy, adoption and even murder.  For Roberta, travelling from her real South London childhood to the ersatz one she inhabited as Irene Raymond in Eastenders must have been a strange journey.  Unlike narcissistic and mainly ghost-written celebrity memoirs that tend to portray their subjects as “chosen” or “Special” or triumphing over adversity, and unlike much contemporary misery memoir, that feeds on the willingness of readers to side with victimised authors in their uncorroborated portraits of the past, Too Many Mothers,  written entirely by Roberta, and with style, offers enormous amounts of wry humour and a great deal of love for the family she writes about, admiration for their strengths and deeply felt compassion for their weaknesses. A gem of a book, and no assisted suicide in it at all.

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