Kalm, understated suicide drama 'Night, Mother is little too painless

Kalm, understated suicide drama is a little too painless: PATRICK MARMION reviews the opening performance of ‘Night, Ma

‘Night Mother

Hampstead Theatre, Londen

Gradering:

Awkwardly timed to go with last week’s assisted dying debate in Parliament, here come former West Wing star Stockard Channing and Rebecca Night in a revival of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1983 play about a young woman telling her mother that she’s decided to shoot herself.

What’s awkward about it is that the young woman in question, Jessie (Night), has no particular reason to end it all. She’s not terminally ill and she’s not in unbearable pain. She’s just had enough.

She’s been sad for ten years and, sy sê, ‘continuously so since Christmas’. Nor is it because she’s epileptic. She has pills for that.

She plans to use her late father’s pistol and has secured new bullets, to make sure she does it right.

PATRICK MARMION: What's awkward about it is that the young woman in question, Jessie (Night), has no particular reason to end it all. She's not terminally ill and she's not in unbearable pain. She's just had enough (Op die foto: Stockard Channing, seated, and Rebecca Night in 'Night, Ma)

PATRICK MARMION: What’s awkward about it is that the young woman in question, Jessie (Night), has no particular reason to end it all. She’s not terminally ill and she’s not in unbearable pain. She’s just had enough (Op die foto: Stockard Channing, seated, and Rebecca Night in ‘Night, Ma)

PATRICK MARMION: Die probleem is, wel, that Channing's character doesn't really put up much of a fight

PATRICK MARMION: Die probleem is, wel, that Channing’s character doesn’t really put up much of a fight

Ma (Channing) is surprised and disappointed – yes, this is a seriously understated evening.

Jessie just wants her to know, rather than find out. She thinks she’s doing her mum a favour by telling her.

And she wants to leave the farmhouse family home in good order before she goes: Full cookie jar, clean fridge and a freshly laundered loose cover on the sofa.

Jessie resists her mother’s attempts to talk her down with references to her brother, haar pa, her ex-husband and her junkie son.

‘You kill yourself and you might as well kill me!’ Channing pleads, trying to raise the stakes. But that doesn’t work either.

As a dramatic device to get the pair of them talking, the threat of Jessie’s suicide seems to me contrived, even a bit cute.

It allows Norman to pretend Jessie’s announcement isn’t a brutally cruel thing to do to your parent.

En tog, the play has a horrible ring of truth, ook; and it’s said suicides often have an air of calm at the end.

As Jessie, wearing a loose black cable-knit jumper and baggy jeans, Night is coolly matter of fact. She gives a pitiless study in passive aggression, presenting only implacable certainty, without regard for her mother’s feelings.

It’s sometimes as though the pair of them are discussing an imminent trip to the supermarket.

PATRICK MARMION: As Jessie, wearing a loose black cable-knit jumper and baggy jeans, Night (op die foto links) is coolly matter of fact. She gives a pitiless study in passive aggression, presenting only implacable certainty, without regard for her mother's feelings

PATRICK MARMION: As Jessie, wearing a loose black cable-knit jumper and baggy jeans, Night (op die foto links) is coolly matter of fact. She gives a pitiless study in passive aggression, presenting only implacable certainty, without regard for her mother’s feelings

And yet Channing’s star quality, and her remarkably youthful appearance, make her endlessly watchable.

She hits every line exactly; and she’s always on the lookout for her next move.

Die probleem is, wel, that Channing’s character doesn’t really put up much of a fight.

Her acceptance of her child’s shocking decision comes too easily and left me wondering: What is the point of this play? Of, more precisely, how are we meant to enjoy it?

Wel, flawless as Roxana Silbert’s production is, it doesn’t supply any real answer to that. ‘Night, Mother left me feeling flat and unmoved.

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