Reviewed by Frank McKone
Written by Joan Didion
Directed by Laurence Strangio
Performed by Jillian Murray
Lighting Designer – Andy Turner
Sound Designer – Darius Kedros
Photography – Jodie Hutchinson
Production / Stage Manager – Cecelia Scarthy
I had not read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, nor even known what it was about. I’m glad I hadn’t, for the same reason that her daughter said she did not want to read her parents’ writings: “I don’t want to judge my parents.”
Coming to Jillian Murray’s performance without preconceptions meant that I was not distracted, as I otherwise surely would have been, by making a judgement about how well – or not – she accurately represented the book. What I saw was an actor presenting a highly complex intelligent character speaking directly to me about the deaths of her husband and her daughter, wanting to explain what she did, what she thought and what she felt throughout that fateful year.
She was motivated by thinking that everyone may, at some time in their life, have a loved-one die – and would benefit by understanding beforehand how they might behave in ways quite different from what they might assume they would.
Jillian Murray made me feel that she was that very person for real. She was telling to me all that she was thinking in her continuous internal personal dialogue, just as I talk to myself, constantly analysing what I said and did, or could have said or done, and what would have happened if…. Having been to my own cancer specialist that very morning I was already talking to myself about what my wife and daughter need to know about what he told me. Like Joan, so much was about practical matters – about keeping my control of the situation. Jillian’s acting was personal – and brilliantly done.
So for me, as a theatre critic, the simplicity of the staging, costume, lighting and background sound was the key to success. Looking back now, I can see, though, the fine details in Jillian’s acting, for which Laurence Strangio must surely also be given credit as director. Underplaying, which makes the characterisation so strong and realistic, takes a great deal of work, of mental focus and concentration to make it seem simple and without ostentation – to make it seem real.
I am not sure how the tour is going, being thoroughly messed up I presume by Covid, but I congratulate Jillian Murray and Critical Stages for presenting such significant theatre.
in The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Critical Stages Touring 2022