A delve back into the Hampstead Theatre archives offers up a production that should probably have stayed back there in ‘Night, Mother
“This is how I say no”
Time and time again, I allow my love for actresses to override my better sense of whether I should be booking in for plays. Cush Jumbo in Hamlet, Saoirse Ronan in Macbeth, and now Stockard Channing in ‘Night, Mother, I knew I didn’t want to see these productions and yet off I trotted because I wanted to see them onstage again (I don’t even have the excuse that I haven’t seen any of them before!).
Hampstead Theatre’s 70th anniversary season has seen them revisiting plays from their past – Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play premiered in the UK here back in 1985 – and whilst you can see that it might have had some impact then, it absolutely lacks any of that now. Roxana Silbert’s pared-back production is impressively frippery-free, just until you realise that nothing of import has put in its place.
Somewhere deeply rural in the US, a mother and a daughter are chatting away with conversational ease but something isn’t quite right and by the end of this first scene, we learn that the daughter, Jessie, is intending to take her life with her father’s old gun. And whilst predictably her mum Thelma ain’t too jazzed about it, especially as Jessie starts making plans for all the practicalities, there’s not really much more to it than that.
Channing is a quality actress for sure but she feels slightly miscast here and Rebecca Night as Jessie manages to somehow sustain a single note of borderline disinterest in her performance. Together, there’s little sense of familial chemistry and Silbert doesn’t really cultivate any idea of any emotional stakes involved here. It’s not always punishingly dull but the mere fact that that is the ballpark we’re talking about speaks volumes here.