Night, Mother at Hampstead Theatre
Night, Mother begins with a declaration that no parent wants to hear: “I’m going to kill myself, Mamma”, Jessie announces one evening as her mother, Thelma, reminds her to order more Hershey Bars from the supermarket. “But I’m going to do what I can before I go. We’re not just going to sit around tonight”. What follows is a hauntingly heavy evening, where a desperate mother pleads a daughter to stay in a world she finds cold and inhospitable, and a daughter begs her mother not to save her but to understand.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from Marsha Norman first graced the main stage at Hampstead Theatre in 1985. 35 years later, the play’s bleak depiction of mental health and conflicting family relationships feels a little stilted. This is somewhat surprising, given the timely nature of the production’s return to the stage. After all, a story that focuses on isolation and the implications it has on mental health should feel all too familiar in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, there seems to be something of a distance between the audience and the story being told – a clear indication that the discourse surrounding mental health on the stage has shifted significantly.
Nevertheless, if accepted for what it is (a quiet and tense depiction of a mother-daughter relationship) the production remains enthralling, largely due to the stellar performances from Rebecca Night and Stockard Channing as Jessie and Thelma. Throughout, Night brings a disturbing sense of calm and finality to Jessie, wherein her emotions are constantly threatening to spill over. As a result, the performance feels much more realistic than overly emotive presentations of spiralling mental health. Channing is no stranger to excellence, with a decades-long career on both stage and screen to prove it. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that her heart-wrenching portrayal of Thelma breathes new energy into the script.
With thoughtful and sensitive direction from Roxana Silbert and homely stage design from Ti Green, Night, Mother brings a certain solemnity to a night at the theatre – but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Stories about mental health are more important than ever, and the severity echoed in the production is reminiscent of real struggles. Therefore, as the audience aches for a reprieve from the tension, the small moments of the comedy in the script only offer a few seconds of release before we are drawn back into the dark once again.
In short, Night, Mother is a powerful production that addresses the need for better mental health support – both when the text was written and in the present day.
Night, Mother is at Hampstead Theatre from 22nd October until 4th December 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.