What to make of ‘The Story of Lucy Barton’, the Bridge Theatre’s latest star vehicle, which is directed by Richard Eyre? On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to witness 90 minutes of acting of the highest quality, from an actress at the height of her powers. On the other, I found Lucy Barton’s litany of fractured relationships and uneasy nostalgia tedious and, occasionally, dull.
A word, first, about the Bridge Theatre. It was my first visit and I was impressed by its new auditorium, home to the London Theatre Company: I shall definitely return. Back to the play, however, and it’s a stark setting that we find ourselves in: a hospital ward, portrayed simply by a bed and a chair. Lucy Barton has been in hospital for some time, felled by appendicitis and, then, a mysterious fever. At the end of her third week of illness, she awakes to find her mother sitting at the foot of her bed.
The two, it soon becomes clear, have had a troubled relationship since Lucy was a child and have not seen each other for years; on the face of it for geographical reasons, but in reality due to their many differences. Linney does a great job of morphing into Barton’s mother (and, later, her father) and it’s this transformation which produces some much-needed moments of humour. There are some wincingly relatable moments as the two bicker and wrangle: “You can never know a human being fully”, one of them comments, sagely: a sentiment to which we can all relate.
The trouble is, it’s impossible to warm to any of the characters. I found myself rolling my eyes like a truculent teenager throughout each interminable exchange. I’d say that one’s reaction to these squabbles depends on whether you enjoy this sort of domestic drama– and, to be honest, Elizabeth Strout’s novels, upon one of which this is based.
I’ve read several of them and found them interesting enough – but far from gripping, which is how I’d describe this play. “I am Lucy Barton and this is my story”, Laura Linney tells us, as the afternoon draws to a close – and it’s true that Linney’s performance will remain imprinted on my mind; she’s an eminently watchable actress. Lucy Barton’s story, however, is unlikely to stay with me for any great length of time.