Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Nightingale

L:ynn Redgrave
New End Theatre
(2006)

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Nightingale is essentially a mournful recitation of an unfulfilled and frustrated life.

The play was inspired by memories of Lynn Redgrave's maternal grandmother, Beatrice Kempson, mother of the late Rachel Kempson (also known as Lady Redgrave).

The play, a world premiere at the New End Theatre, is a solo performance by Caroline John, directed telephonically by the playwright who is in Los Angeles rehearsing her part as Lady Bracknell in Sir Peter Hall's production of The Importance of being Earnest.

The austere, dark stage provides a platform for Mildred Asher (Caroline John) to evince her limited thoughts from puberty to marriage, where she professes to ignorance about life and sex, which leads in turn to a loveless marriage and the realisation that "a marriage is more than a kiss".

John's comic account of Mildred's experience of the first night of her honeymoon, during which her husband gingerly confesses "Mildred, there is an awful thing that I have to ask you to do," exposes some the couple's mutual ignorance and vulnerability. At this point, Mildred loses her woodenness and actually emerges as a character.

It soon becomes clear that this first night of conjugal felicity is in fact a prelude to a protracted sexually frustrated relationship.

The birth of her daughter Rose provides Mildred's husband with a source of affection ("she is daddy's girl") but leaves Mildred indifferent, detached and resentful of her daughter as she realises that she needs a son to discharge her duty as a wife. The birth of her son, Michael, is the key to her liberation from marital duty.

Mildred's strong sense of social duty shackles her to a husband she does not love. She is acutely aware that she is leading a "life of indignity" where "dull, lonely routine" fills the days, weeks and months.

Perhaps inevitably, Mildred's resentment of her daughter sprouts into jealously. She is envious of her child's professional success as an actress and later as a happily married woman. The only affection she has is bestowed on her son whom she loses to the war. The loss of Michael unmasks her maternal feelings as well as punctuates her despair and resurrects the audience's sympathy for this woman.

Redgrave's Nightingale is a cocktail of emotions: a healthy shot of cliché served on ice leaving the audience mildly stirred but not shaken.

Until 19th February 2006

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson