Theatre Review: ‘Night Mother

“I can’t stop you because you’ve already gone.”

Marsha Norman ~ ‘Night, Mother

Photo: Marc Brenner

Synopsis

Being a parent is the best and worst thing in the world. Your child’s pain is your pain and seeing them hurting is unbearable.

But what if your child told you they were going to end their life? In just a few hours’ time…

Directed by Roxana Silbert, ‘Night, Mother is a one act play by Marsha Norman. Set in the 1980s, it looks at how people with epilepsy and mental health problems were treated.

Jessie (Rebecca Night) has not only struggled with epilepsy for most of her life, she has also been living with her mother Thelma (Stockard Channing) since her divorce. We don’t hear much about Jessie’s son, except that he’s gotten into some trouble. She’s been through a lot and now she wants to take her own life. 

Review

The play and actors start off slowly, but gradually get into their stride. The bombshell is dropped quite near the start, meaning there’s no real anticipation or sense of foreboding until the very end. It’s also so short that you (and Thelma) don’t really have time to process what Jessie has revealed before it happens; perhaps that is Norman’s aim, but the impact is lessened and the play feels a bit unfinished.

It’s an interesting story. Mother and daughter have been living together, but now that Jessie’s life is drawing to a close, it feels like they’ve spent no time together at all.

Night gives a strong performance, bringing a determined yet unfeeling side to the character. Her argument to take her life is valid and understandable; she is so blasé about it that we don’t disagree with her and our sympathy lies with Thelma. While this gives an interesting dynamic to the play, it would have been nice to see Jessie show some more emotion; as it is, it feels a little dull.

Channing has moments of brilliance where she demonstrates her prowess as a stage actor, but at times seems to break character which makes the play feel inconsistent. Her grief for her daughter is real; she tries to be strong for Jessie but her vulnerability breaks through and we see her crumble as realisation sinks in. Having said that, there could have been more emotion during her conversations with Jessie.

Considering the small cast, the stage design has been well considered and the set is fantastic, with excellent attention to detail. As the play is very dialogue-reliant, elements of the movement feel a little forced. There’s a lot of ‘fidgeting’ to keep the play from being static; while it works with the story, it does detract from the importance of the conversations.

That said, ‘Night, Mother does remind us that life is fleeting and to be more considerate and understanding of friends and family. It also poses a lot of questions about mental health and considers a different side of the story: if euthanasia can be used for physically debilitating diseases, will it become an option for those struggling with life-long mental illnesses? 

Although it’s not a perfect production by any means, it does stay with you long after the curtain falls.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I was provided with press tickets and hospitality. Originally written and reviewed for West End Wilma. All opinions my own.

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