Thursday, 7 June 2018

Theatre review: My Name is Lucy Barton


I’m still not sure any more review is actually necessary for My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s short novel adapted into a stage monologue by Rona Munro and directed by Richard Eyre at the Bridge Theatre. Bob Crowley’s simple set is a hospital room, where writer Lucy spent nine weeks in the early eighties after an appendectomy went wrong. She looks back on that time now, specifically the day that her estranged mother suddenly appeared at the foot of her bed – Lucy’s husband had asked her to come and paid for the air fare, otherwise she wouldn’t have visited. It sends her on a disjointed recollection of her childhood in rural Illinois, where the family were so poor she would stay late at school because it was better-heated than their house. The effect of this extra study time was a scholarship to university, where she met her future husband and moved with him to New York.

It’s a cliché to say Laura Linney could perform the phone book and make it watchable but it’s true, and at times that might be what she’s doing here.

Which is perhaps unfair on the source material, which has clearly found a lot of fans in the couple of years since it was first published. It’s a rambling story – Phill’s more charitable word for it was “organic” – that builds up a character portrait of Lucy through the people around her and her experiences. Luke Halls’ projections on the back walls melt the hospital room into the fields of Lucy’s childhood, where her memories of her PTSD-afflicted father tease the suggestion that this might turn into misery porn, but the story of her being locked alone in the family truck for hours is the only instance we hear of actual abuse.

There’s nothing much to dislike about the story, it just wasn’t for me for one reason or other; but it makes Linney’s performance stand out even more that, even if I didn’t care much about the picture her stories were building up, I was completely absorbed in her telling them. Last month four people seemed nowhere near enough to fill this stage, now one is more than enough to command a full house. Slipping into the nasal, gossipy voice of Lucy’s mother she makes her seem as if she’s been in the room next to Lucy: Her warm and intimate performance is enough to recommend the show on its own, if Strout’s writing is more your thing than it is mine then it must be an unmissable experience. Ladies and gentlemen, LAURA MOTHERFUCKING LINNEY.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Rona Munro, based on the novel by Elizabeth Strout, is booking until the 23rd of June at the Bridge Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.

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