‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama had its first production outside America at the Hampstead Theatre in 1985 and now 36 years later it’s been revived by the same theatre’s Artistic Director Roxana Silbert (who also directs) as a vehicle for multi-award winning (a Tony and numerous Emmys) actress Stockard Channing who is one of the first American actors to cross the Atlantic after the covid restrictions of the past 18 months or so.
‘Night, Mother is set somewhere in rural America and tells the story of Thelma (Channing) and her daughter Jessie (Rebecca Knight) and their fraught relationship.
Jessie is an epileptic who also has mental health problems and is threatening suicide as her unhappiness overwhelms her and she reaches the end of her tether. Thelma, a widow who has her own problems although she thinks she’s been a good mother realises that Jessie is serious about ending her life – she has the gun and the ammunition – so Thelma sets out to thwart her determined daughter who has planned her demise to the letter – in this case, both literally and metaphorically.
For most of ‘Night, Mother, the mother and daughter bicker and argue about their relationship whilst carrying out the most mundane tasks such as sorting out the sweet jars, making hot chocolate and changing the cover on a couch. It’s all very static apart from a couple of dramatic moments when Thelma throws some saucepans onto the floor and towards the end when she tries to physically stop her daughter from going into her bedroom where she’s planning to shoot herself. On the theatre’s enormous stage, the action takes place in Ti Green’s eighties kitchen/living area and dwarfs what should be a more claustrophobic and stifling setting which would help the audience get more of a sense of what was driving Jessie towards what someone once called “A long term solution to a short-term problem”.
The two performers are both superb and give as good as they get but the 80 minutes or so consists mainly of the two characters bickering and arguing and at times it gets a bit repetitive and monotonous. There is a funny-ish line every 15 minutes or so but these are just chuckles. On the whole, the dialogue is just a little mundane and repetitive which could of course have been the authors intention in trying to show what the two have been going through but it doesn’t make for a sparkling or even thought-provoking piece of theatre – Pulitzer Prize or no Pulitzer Prize! One of the problems with the piece is that it’s so static that it would work just as well as a radio play.
Over at the Lyric Hammersmith, a revival of Martin McDonagh’s play The Beauty Queen Of Leenane is currently being performed. This tells the story of the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her very unhappy, mentally ill daughter, living in an isolated rural location (this time in Ireland), carrying out the day-to-day mundane household tasks whilst constantly bickering and arguing. However, McDonagh’s play packs a couple of punches to the stomach that makes the audience shudder with their theatrical power something which is, unfortunately, lacking in Norman’s piece. Considering the subject matter, it’s all a bit flat and unmoving.
It’s wonderful to see a bona fide film, television and Broadway star on a London stage – it’s just a shame that the always excellent Stockard Channing doesn’t have something more powerful and gripping to show off her considerable talents.
Review by Alan Fitter
“I am worried about you, but I’m going to do what I can before I go. We’re not just going to sit around tonight. I made a list of things.”
Featuring Stockard Channing and Rebecca Night, ‘night, Mother explores a mother and a daughter’s lives, relationships and up-to-the-minute life-defining choices with unblinking honesty, raw humour and suspense.
A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE ORIGINAL
Playwright Marsha Norman
Director Roxana Silbert
Designer Ti Green
Lighting Designer Rick Fisher
Sound Designer John Leonard
Voice & Dialect Stephen Kemble
Assistant Director Nikhil Vyas
Cast Stockard Channing and Rebecca Night
Dates: 22 October –4 December 2021
Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London, NW3 3EU