The Theatreguide.London Review
Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2021
Jessie (Rebecca Night) is amiably busy with household chores as she chats with her mother Thelma (Stockard Channing) in Marsha Norman’s 1981 play Night Mother.
This might be a scene from any American family drama with characters swapping anecdotes, joking and recalling family members, except that in the first minutes Jessie (Rebecca Night) casually mentions she is going to kill herself.
‘Very funny’ Thelma replies, not quite believing her daughter is serious. She tells Jessie ‘people don't really kill themselves.. and you're as normal as they come.’
Nevertheless, as Jessie busies herself with organising her mother’s larder, emptying the rubbish bin and filling jars with sweets, Thelma tries to find out why she wants to do such a terrible thing and persuade her not to.
Jessie mentions various difficulties of a dysfunctional family but nothing seems to be the key to her decision. Practical and lacking any variation in emotion or objective, she continues moving about the house arranging things for her departure.
Stockard Channing gives a fine performance as a mother unused to showing emotion or affection. There can be few mothers who look as awkward as Thelma about touching their daughter. Yet this adds to a rather cold and remote depiction of their relationship. It is hard to imagine they are really mother and daughter.
The director Roxana Silbert gives us a very clear production with moments of humour but she doesn't give it much shading as if to convince us of the mundane nature of suicide. Instead, the play takes eighty minutes of unfocused chat with no dramatic tension or surprises to reach the conclusion we expect.
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