“If you want to be an analyst of any worth, you have to trust your patients with the truth, however harsh. They’re strong, they’ll take it.”
After the highly successful Duet for One which toured and then transferred into the West End, we return once again to the theme of psychoanalysis with this revival of Mrs Klein at the Almeida theatre in Islington.
Struggling to come to terms with the death of her son Hans in a climbing accident, noted controversial psychoanalyst Melanie Klein asks a colleague to cover for her while she goes to the funeral. Paula, recently escaped from the rising anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, is finding it hard to make a living in London and agrees to this, but is interrupted by the arrival of Klein’s daughter Melitta also a psychoanalyst, resentful of her presence and angry with her mother’s domineering behaviour. After Mrs Klein herself returns unexpectedly, Paula gets caught up in the longstanding conflict between mother and daughter which comes to crisis point in the wake of revelations about Hans’s death.
It may have just been the result of a long weekend and a long day in the office, but I found the first half to be crushingly dull. Things did pick up somewhat after the interval but I was never fully engaged with the material, especially with the heavy use of psychiatric jargon which was thrown around with plentiful abandon. Perhaps it had more resonance for people who are more familiar with psychoanalysis but I found it ultimately quite alienating: the continual overanalysing of every emotional or indeed emotionless response left me glancing at the watch more than once. Clearly there’s a point here about the capacity of psychoanalysts to actually deal with their own problems, despite the fact that they help others all the time, but sadly it was not one that hooked me in.
The acting was predictably first-rate regardless: I suspect Clare Higgins couldn’t be bad if she tried, her portrayal is so subtly measured here and her eventual realisations of the truth of her relations with her children, both of whom she had treated as patients, were especially tragic. Waites’ embittered daughter was superbly bitter and as good a job as could be managed with such an astringent character, but I really enjoyed Nicola Walker’s performance as her character insinuated herself into the role of surrogate daughter.
In the end though, I think this was probably the weakest play that the Almeida has offered up this year: not just because it was a subject matter that did not particularly engage me, but rather because I felt this was a play that has mistaken verbosity for genuine depth. Clearly this is not the prevailing opinion as the play has been ‘returns only’ for its entire run, but there you go.
Photo: Tristram Kenton