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Fragile Productions presents

Night, Mother

Jayne Harvatt (Thelma) and Emily Connell (Jessie) in Night, Mother at Greenwich Playhouse


by Marsha Norman


Directed by Emily Connell


Greenwich Playhouse


25 May - 20 June 2010






A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

This Pulitzer-prize winning play about how a woman who has decided to kill herself spends an evening justifying her decision to her mother was filmed with Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft ten years ago.  Since then, suicide has ceased to be taboo, in fact it is rarely out of the headlines.  I was uneasy about going to see the play in this context as the continual insistence on the 'right to die' in the media makes me feel queasy. Society's disapproval of suicide was based on the assumption that human life is valuable and it is this assumption which Jessie (Emily Connell) relentlessly denies while her mother Thelma (Jayne Harvatt) desperately counters with arguments she hopes will keep her daughter alive in Night, Mother.

In the event, I could not help but be impressed by this family production. Emily Connell directed herself and her mother, Jayne Harvatt so that mother and daughter played mother and daughter, taking full advantage of their natural intimacy to recreate a real sense of this closest of bonds to great dramatic effect in the play. Mark Connell took care of production, sound and lighting with Max Connell, who also handled publicity and artwork. The authentic looking, mid-western style domestic interior set was designed by Raymond Harvatt and constructed with Brenda Harvatt. Everything from the candy in the jars to the pots, pans and sofa covers played their part in constructing a weary round of pointless drudgery. All aspects of the production worked so well together that Marsha Norman's portrait of a bleak, dead-end life became real on stage, where mother and daughter speak plainly, telling it like it is in the distinctly hard-chaw, almost brutal fashion of people who usually don't speak at all about the things that loom largest in their lives, particularly if there's no way to change them.  Characters in Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories (including 'Brokeback Mountain') also have this gritty quality, like the Western landscape they come from.  It is a real shame that this production of Night, Mother is playing to such small audiences, as it is really compelling, with utterly committed acting, intense and absorbing right to the finish.

Even better, I found to my surprise that I was with both characters on the key point made by this play, a point lost in the current debates about suicide. Mother and daughter agree that this is 'personal'; it's nobody else's business and nobody else is 'invited'. Meanwhile, in the real world, the director of public prosecutions has listed certain conditions under which it would be legal to seek death and others propose tribunals run by bureaucrats to make the decisions. My instinct is to reject a culture which increasingly sees suicide as a lifestyle choice as long as it's sanctioned by the state. At least Jessie doesn't generalise her outlook in Night, Mother. This production of this play is well worth seeing.  


Emily Connell and her mother Jayne Harvatt in rehearsal of Night, Mother


Greenwich Playhouse
Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London SE10 8JA

Tues-Sat 8pm; Sun 4pm (no performances on 12 and 18 June)

Tickets: £12/£10 concs



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