David Hare’s play about a mother-daughter relationship first premiered at the National in 1997 with Judi Dench and Samantha Bond. Nearly 10 years later Amy's View has been revived at the Garrick with Felicity Kendal taking the role of the aging, actress mother and Jenna Russell as her daughter Amy, who takes the view that love conquers all. Caroline Bishop went to see if she was right…
Early on in this play Esme, a middle-aged actress prone to exaggeration and melodrama, says there are no good parts for women in the theatre anymore. Writer David Hare proves his character wrong by writing such a strong female role, played here with relish by Kendal.
It’s just one of several references to the theatre world in Amy’s View, which focuses on the life of Esme and her relationship with her non-actress daughter, Amy. By making Esme an actress, Hare is frequently able to poke fun at the theatre world, with occasional in-jokes referencing critics and directors that drew chuckles from the first night audience. Esme’s theatrical character also imbues the play with some comedy, taking the pressure off the emotion of the piece.
Played out in four scenes over the course of many years, Amy’s View begins in 1979, in the country home of the widowed Esme, where she lives with her late husband’s mother Evelyn. When Amy pays a visit to present her mother with her new boyfriend, the ambitious, would-be film producer Dominic (Ryan Kiggell), it is the start of an emotional conflict that is played out throughout their lives.
Russell and Kendal are adept at conveying the strengths, weaknesses and turbulent emotions in a mother-daughter relationship. While initially Esme is the stronger of the two, offering her idealistic, lovelorn daughter advice on the tricky situation she finds herself in, as the years go by the tables are turned, and the older, more mature Amy has to help her exasperating mother face up to her problems, while in turn dealing with her own.
In pitting Esme and son-in-law Dominic against each other, the play is able to ask questions about the relevance of theatre in the increasingly televised world – both Dominic and Esme are stubborn and elitist in their opposing views on the subject, but each reluctantly comes to see some value in the other through the events that take place. Esme’s melodramatic and deluded approach to her new role in a hospital soap opera makes a very funny start to Act 3, now in 1993.
In essence though, Esme is not a one-dimensional drama queen stereotype, and Kendal convincingly portrays a woman who sticks her head in the clouds to blot out the heartache she feels over her husband’s death, her mother-in-law’s dementia and her daughter’s unsatisfactory partner. Both Kendal and Russell convey the complex mix of love and frustration felt by a mother and daughter who are also best friends.