“Night Mother”

Hampstead Theatre, London


It’s a bizarre timing to coincide with the assisted dying debate in Parliament. Here’s Stockard Channing, former West Wing star, as well as Rebecca Night, in a revival Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1983 play about an 18-year-old woman telling her mother she’s made a decision to kill herself.

The thing that is awkward about this is that Jessie Night, the young woman at issue, has no reason to end her life. She is not terminally ill nor in unbearable pain. She’s had enough.

She’s been sad for ten-years and has been since Christmas. It’s not because she is epileptic. She has the ability to take pills to do this. 

She plans on using her father’s pistol, and has bought new bullets to make sure she does it right.

PATRICK MARMION: What's awkward about it is that the young woman in question, Jessie (Night), has no particular reason to end it all. She's not terminally ill and she's not in unbearable pain. She's just had enough (Pictured: Stockard Channing, seated, and Rebecca Night in 'Night, Mother)

PATRICK MARMION: It’s odd that the young woman, Jessie (Night), doesn’t have any reason to end it all. She’s not in terminal illness and she’s not suffering from unbearable pain. She’s had enough. (Pictured: Stockard Chnning, seated, Rebecca Night in ‘Night Mother.

PATRICK MARMION: The problem is, though, that Channing's character doesn't really put up much of a fight

PATRICK ARMION: The problem with Channing’s character, however, is that he doesn’t really fight back. 

Mother (Channing) is surprised and disappointed – yes, this is a seriously understated evening.

Jessie wants Jessie to find out, not just tell her. She thinks she’s doing her mother a favor by telling Jessie. 

She wants to leave the farmhouse home in good order.

Jessie resists her mother’s attempts to talk her down by referring to her brother, her father and her junkie child.

“You can kill yourself, but you can’t kill me!” Channing pleads, trying raise the stakes. This doesn’t work, either.

The threat of Jessie’s death seems contrived to get them talking. 

It allows Norman pretend Jessie’s news isn’t so cruel.

Yet, the play also has a terrible ring of truth; suicides often have an air that is calm at the end.

Night is coolly observable as Jessie, who is wearing a loose cable-knit jumper in black and baggy jeans. She is a sad example of passive aggression. She presents her mother with inexorable certainty.

Sometimes, it feels like the two of them are discussing a possible trip to the supermarket. 

PATRICK MARMION: As Jessie, wearing a loose black cable-knit jumper and baggy jeans, Night (pictured left) is coolly matter of fact. She gives a pitiless study in passive aggression, presenting only implacable certainty, without regard for her mother's feelings

PATRICK ARMION: Night (pictured left), wearing a loose cable-knit sweater and baggy jeans, is coolly matter-of-fact. She is a pitiless study of passive aggression. She presents only inexplicable certainty, with no regard for her mother’s feelings.

Channing’s star quality and her young appearance make her fascinating to watch.

She hits every line exactly and is always on the lookout to make her next move.

Channing’s character, however, isn’t able to fight back. 

I was left wondering what the point of this play after she accepted her child’s shocking decision. Or, even more specifically, how are we supposed to enjoy it.

Roxana Silbert’s production may be flawless, but it doesn’t give any real answers. “Night, Mother left my feeling flat and unmoved.