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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Night’

Sometimes however good the production and performances, and however much you relate to or empathise with the issues raised, you fail to engage with the play, and so it was with this. I’ve been struggling to understand why ever since it ended – too American? Dated treatment of the subject(s)? The writing itself? The fact it followed a much more successful revival of another, very different, mother-daughter story the evening before?

In Marsha Norman’s 1982 play about isolation, loneliness and depression, the relationship between mother Thelma and daughter Jessie is one of mutual dependence, with Jessie ostensibly looking after Thelma, who is effectively a companion for her troubled daughter. There’s an ordinariness about their lives, until Jessie gives her mother notice that she will shortly be killing herself and spends the rest of their time together ensuring Thelma knows where everything is and how things are done, in a very calm matter-of-fact way.

It doesn’t inform, enlighten or illuminate its themes, so it becomes a relatively emotionless tale of a woman who’s tired of living her problematic life – failed marriage, criminal son, epilepsy, loss of her beloved dad, much misunderstood – and how her mother has been hitherto somewhat oblivious to much of this. I couldn’t relate or empathise with it, and learnt little from it.

Stockard Channing (who I haven’t seen since her London stage debut in Six Degrees of Separation twenty years ago) and Rebecca Night were both excellent and director Roxana Sibert and designer Ti Green did their best with the somewhat static one room, continuous timeline material. I can think of a lot of better examples of Hampstead premieres of American plays to celebrate their 60 years, I’m afraid.

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A biographical play about a cinematographer? Jack Cardiff’s career reads like a history of 20th Century cinema, but why a play? It seems to have been suggested by its leading man, Robert Lindsay, and playwright / director Terry Johnson has dramatised it for him.

We’re at the end of Cardiff’s life, at his country home, with his wife Nicola, played by Claire Skinner, his son Mason, Barnaby Kay, and new ‘assistant’ Lucy, played by Rebecca Night. He’s got dementia, so it’s all recollection and reflection, and attempts to write a biography.

In the brilliant opening scene, he tells the history of screen shapes and sizes by opening a garage door. The first act ends as superbly as the second begins when we flash back to the filming of The African Queen in Kenya, where Barnaby Kay transforms into Humphrey Bogart, Rebecca Night into his wife Lauren Bacall and Claire Skinner becomes Katherine Hepburn – all brilliantly, as Kay and Night are again later as Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (not the first time she’s featured in a Johnson play!). Before and after this though it’s all a bit slight, and I came to the conclusion the life was less interesting, name-dropping and possible infidelities aside, and stageable than they at first thought.

That said, there are four fine performances, an excellent design from Tim Shortall and enough to make you pleased you went.

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