Review: 'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre - drama without drama
There's a moment right at the end of 'Night, Mother which tugged on my heartstrings and that surprised me.
The play is set in rural America, where a mother (Stockard Channing) and daughter Jessie (Rebecca Night), who has epilepsy, live together. It's quickly apparent that Jessie is the household organiser, making sure her mother has enough of her favourite sweets and biscuits.
In some ways it reminded me of the premise for Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane which, coincidentally, I saw earlier in the week at the Lyric Hammersmith, except this relationship has far less hatred and vitriol.
Just what their relationship is, like Beauty Queen, is slowly revealed, but in Marsha Norma's play, it's through the lens of a limited time frame. Very early in the play, Jessie tells her mother she is going to kill herself that evening.
Despite the fact that this will be their last evening together, there is a sort of calm activity. Mother and daughter talk about the 'why', going over the past, but all the time Jessie is organising and tidying.
There is a confident and steady control about everything she does, but we've not seen her before tonight, so there is nothing to compare her behaviour to; instead, we rely on what she tells us about her feelings.
She's planned everything around the house and has a list of instructions for her mother, so she knows where things are kept, what days deliveries come, and bins are emptied.
And this is where the surprising emotional tug comes in because the conversation they have is somehow made matter-of-fact when accompanied by making cocoa and cleaning out the fridge. Aside from one outburst, emotions are kept dialled to practical.
Aside from a few lines that drew a chuckle, I wasn't expecting such an obvious heart twang at the end. Was that the intention?
The programme talks about the stigma surrounding epilepsy that existed until the 80s, which is when the play was written. And that has certainly had an impact on Jessie, influencing the behaviour of those around her.
But we are nearly 30 years on, and attitudes have changed, which may have deflated its overall impact - the play won a Pulitzer.
'Night, Mother is interesting enough to carry it for its one hour and 20 minutes running time, but it didn't grip me. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half.
It's at the Hampstead Theatre until 4 December, and you can find out more info and buy tickets here.
Recently seen and reviewed:
The Mousetrap, St Martin's Theatre - frothy, fun entertainment - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half