Suicidal plans in the 1980s from Hampstead
“Cecil left me because he made me choose between him and smoking.”
‘night, Mother is regarded as an American classic and it fits into the revival season at Hampstead Theatre as having been first produced in London there. But then so does The Elephant Man from 1977 and the upcoming at Hampstead, Peggy For You about the witty and acerbic literary agent Peggy Ramsay.
I’m so glad I spent most of the theatrical 1980s bringing up children and not exposed to American plays like ‘night, Mother by Marsha Norman. I have learnt from experience that the award of a Pulitzer prize is not a guarantee of quality but more a reflection of subjects being tackled for the first time in that era. Interesting is it not that Sam Shepard’s True West was a finalist in 1983 alongside the winner ‘night, Mother ?
Ironically the present promotion of ideas on suicide prevention is to talk randomly to strangers like the batty old bat that I am. We are asked to reach out to those who may be alone in the hope of making a difference. In ‘night, Mother no amount of talking is going to change Jessie’s mind. As in a play by Chekhov, the gun appears early on the piece for use in the final moments.
The performances by Rebecca Night as Jessie and Stockard Channing as her mother Thelma and direction by Roxanna Silbert are all fine but the play’s the thing that is depressing. The explosions from the mother in throwing things around didn’t appear to be built up to, but erratic. I didn’t love Ti Green’s set which although very detailed had too much space above to convey the inertia of life in the rural area.
Jessie, an epileptic, divorced from Cecil, with a son Ricky who is a drug addict, has decided to end her life. She has every detail worked out and needs to tell her mother what preparations she has made. There is no warmth between mother and daughter just dysfunction. I never grasped why Jessie has come to the conclusion that suicide is the only path for her. Her mother lives for sweet treats and cigarettes which no body smokes onstage, a different kind of suicide I guess.
Whatever is going on inside Jessie’s head is inexplicable. Does she think that the meticulous preparations like ironing her mother’s pink frock or listing everyone’s birthdays is a kind of caring? Sometimes a very depressing play can make you feel grateful for your own existence but all I felt here was uncaring about both mother and daughter.
Written by Marsha Norman
Directed by Roxane Silbert
Director: Roxane Silbert
Designer: Ti Green
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Sound Designer: John Leonard
Fight Director: RC Annie Ltd
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Booking to 4th December 2021
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at Hampstead Theatre
on 28th October 2021