Paul T Davies reviews Laura Linney in My Name Is Lucy Barton now playing at the Bridge Theatre
My Name is Lucy Barton.
The Bridge Theatre.
7 June 2018
I will confess that I found Elizabeth Strouts’s novel rather slight, I couldn’t help feel I had missed something. Written as, more or less, a monologue, Lucy Barton looks back to a time when she was hospitalised for eight weeks following complications that set in after a routine operation. Her view is of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, and an unexpected visit from her mother, a difficult parent to say the least, prompts memories of her childhood poverty and abuse from her damaged parents. “Tell me stories”, Lucy, now a writer asks, and her mother does, gossip of residents of their small town Amgash. They never discuss events of Lucy’s childhood, Lydia, her mother, expert avoiding the issue, Lucy never daring to directly confront. It is a novel of reflections and major incidents are hinted at, or in the background, and for that I felt it didn’t confront the issues. But then again, I didn’t have such a masterful and wonderful actor as Laura Linney telling me the story.
On an almost bare stage, and in a large auditorium, Linney commands the space and gives a nuanced, beautiful and perfectly under stated performance as shy, quiet, yet determined Lucy Barton, a woman of nervous smiles, gentle tears, innocence and tenderness, who manages to move away from her home and upbringing and live the life she wants to. But the other role is of Lydia, with a movement of her cardigan, an altering of her pitch and her expressive hands, Linney inhabits Lucy’s mother, never giving away too much of her feelings, leaving at a moment of crisis. What may feel obscure in the novel is brought into sharp clarity by silence and the space between the words, the unspoken is conveyed beautifully in this performance. There are times where some of events are still tantalisingly out of reach. Lucy lives in New York during the AIDS crisis, and her friend Jeremy des from the disease, and Laura looks into the eyes of an AIDS patient while she is in a corridor awaiting a scan. Her brother, as a child, is paraded in the streets after their father catches him wearing women’s clothing, and yelled at for being “a faggot”. There is abuse, their father damaged by his war experiences. Yet what does emerge, after ninety involving minutes, is the triumph of the “ordinary” woman, who clings onto her life and goes forward blindly, whatever the cost, as her life is worth living on her terms.
Of course, it’s not totally a solo show. Richard Eyre’s sensitive direction allows Rona Munro’s excellent adaptation to breathe beautifully, Bob Crowley’s simple but effective design taking us from New York to Amgash in rhythm with Peter Mumford’s exquisite lighting design, moving around the stage with Ms. Linney.
Ultimately the piece is about mothers and daughters, parent and child, and those moments in life when you call for your mother and how you are answered, and how you answer when you are called mother. Laura Linney embraces the whole auditorium and confides her tale in one of the best performances you will see this year. Highly recommended.
Until 23 June 2018