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Night, Mother

Marsha Norman
Fragile Productions
Greenwich Playhouse
(2010)

Production photo

How much choice do we actually have in life? Are we ever really completely in control? Can we ever make a decision that is truly our own? Shakespeare's Hamlet famously pondered 'To be, or not to be?' and Marsha Norman's 1983 play Night, Mother poses that very same question.

Jessie can't see any way out. Her life is boring and unfulfilling. Rather than keep living the empty thing she calls a life, she has decided to commit suicide. The idea has been with her for five years, but one evening she decides it's finally time. However, living with her mother means there are a few things she needs to sort out first, and so Jessie goes about preparing her mother for a life without a daughter as if suicide is the last thing to tick off on her To-Do list.

Jayne Harvatt is moving as Jessie's mother who blames herself for her daughter's actions and must grapple with disbelief, pain, sorrow and despair as Jessie reveals her plan. Harvatt does well to show the progression of emotion not only through body language, but by using her voice and dramatic pauses to great effect. She manages to summon tears in her eyes as her character begins the mourning process, it finally having dawned on her that she will be soon be alone.

Norman's writing raises a number of questions: is it selfish to try to stop a loved one from committing such an act? Is it selfish for a loved one to commit such an act? At the end of the day, who has the authority to make such a decision and is suicide really such a crime?

What makes Night, Mother even more chilling to watch is that Jessie, played by Emily Connell, does not fear death, but sees it as an amiable alternative to her mundane life. No matter how much motivational talk her mother utters, Jessie's mind is made up. She appears cold and empty and although audience members may become frustrated with Jessie's ineptness to see that her life is not as bad as she believes, her reasoning is quite clear.

A clock centre stage ticks down the minutes in real time to the deed. Knowing the length of the play only contributes to a heightened sense of tension as the minute hand edges further towards 9.20pm; not only the end of the play, but the end of Jessie's life. As the second hand makes its way around the clock face in the final minutes of the play, each tick is echoed in a heartbeat of tension, waiting for the shot to ring out.

The only frustrating aspect of the play is that the mother never tries hard enough to physically prevent Jessie from committing suicide. Never does she grab the gun whilst Jessie organises the candy and cutlery, never does she use overt physical force. She does block the corridor only to be pushed out of the way by Jessie, but this comes right at the end of the play, when the mother knows Jessie will not be talked out of it.

With Terry Pratchett in February this year publicly stating 'My life, my death, my choice', Night, Mother adds more thought provoking fuel to the ongoing debate of whether suicide should be supported or remain a sin.

Playing until 20th June 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen