As soon as Laura Linney spoke her last word in My Name is Lucy Barton, the entire audience of the Bridge Theatre leapt to their feet and ferociously applauded. It was deserved, with the three-time Oscar nominee and Broadway star pulling off a deeply affecting one-woman play.
Linney plays an author reminiscing about when she was in hospital with a strange illness, a time during which her mother came to visit her and the two women talked properly for the first time in years.
Linney’s Lucy is shy, nervous and warm as she talks about slivers of memory that came back to her while talking to her estranged mother. As she talks about moments from their brief time together, it becomes clear that that Lucy and her siblings were beaten and neglected as children. Lucy’s time in hospital becomes a bittersweet reunion, where her mother admits some guilt but ultimately walks away at the end with no resolution – no happy, easy ending.
Adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name by Rona Munro, the play is a subtle, nuanced story of a difficult childhood and how difficult it is to escape the past, however hard we try – but also how our family will always inform our identity, whether we like it or not.
Lucy relieving her hospital memories is compelling not because there are any huge revelations or twists and turns – it’s a quieter play than that – but because Linney plays Lucy with such humanity. One moment she’s full of love for her mother’s strangeness and the next moment brimming with pain and frustration at what she had to endure. The most extraordinary thing about the play is how Linney shifts from Lucy to Lucy’s mother so seamlessly, suddenly becoming an older woman with a deep drawl.
My Name is Lucy Barton is 90 minutes of sadness, humour, love and acts of kindness that are almost too much to bear. I’d be amazed if Linney didn’t get standing ovations for her extraordinary monologue every night of the run.
My Name is Lucy Barton is at London’s Bridge Theatre until 23 June