The Real Laura Barton

Rona Munro, My Name is Laura Barton (Directed by Richard Eyre, Br/dge Theatre)

There was some anxiety from several reviewers that Nightfall didn’t sufficiently fill the thrust stage of The Bridge Theatre. So they follow it up with a one-person monologue, performed by Laura Linney, adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel My Name is Laura Barton. To make that feat more impressive, it is performed without interval, with a set that is little more than a hospital bed, a cabinet and a chair, plus a projection screen.

You don’t notice the empty space.

Laura, the character, is a bestselling author, recalling her time in hospital recovering from a mystery, life-threatening illness and the visits of her mother, arranged by a husband who is phobic of hospital. Laura, the actor, plays both the writer and her mother, and occasionally the doctor who seems to be forming a rather too personal bond with her.

In the process, we learn not only her attitudes, but her past and the dark secret of her childhood, revolving around her family. We are led into this step by step, hooked in by just her voices.

I did have a few quibbles, resolved by the play. Is her name Laura Barton? She’s married, but her husband is of German origin. Barton doesn’t sound very German to me and there is no mention of it being naturalised. Barton must be her maiden name, her father’s name, a name she’s returned to. Regressed to.

Not really her name then. Her father’s name and a given name from her parents, replaced sometimes by her mother’s nickname for her.

She has written her own life, but with stolen words.

And yet, I cannot help wondering about the fantastical nature of this. After all, we only have her word for it and the mother always seems to be awake… and leaves the room as the doctor arrives. Perhaps even before. She can find her daughter in the maze of hospital corridors and buildings.

Is she real?

Or, rather, is the visit real, or is it some form of imagined event?

The hysteria invalid? The woman driven invalid?

Rona Munro, the adapter, is best known I suspect for the last episode of Old Who, “Survival”, and also (uniquely?) wrote for Nu Who, the episode “The Eaters of Light”.

I won’t hold it against her.

She’s written comedy and social realism, The James Plays cycle, and so forth, so could easily switch between fantasy and misery porn. At the risk of spoilers, the play doesn’t quite spell it out, and yet I tasted a hint of Rebecca or Gaslight and other feminine, even feminist, gothic. Perhaps even “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

But it plainly showed the power of storytelling in a space to be filled by our concentration and projection.

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