Eine kleine nacht spiel, part two: the what of it
And an evening round the Kleins (of St John’s Wood) is what the play is. It’s a three-hander, a revival, first performed at the National in 1988. Like a classical drama, it takes place in a period of less than 24 hours: an afternoon, an evening, a morning.
There’s Melanie Klein (the ‘great’ analyst, only 56 at the time but seeming far older, in the way that people then seemed to have done). There’s Melitta Schmideberg (her daughter, also an analyst, though not so great). And there’s Paula Heimann (yet another analyst, and greater than Melitta, though not as ‘great’ as Melanie).
In life and the play, Melitta falls out with her mother, challenges her psychoanalytic theories and (not in the play, this bit) doesn’t go to her funeral. (Freud didn’t go to his own mother’s, either. His excuse wasn’t good, either. Not even very convincing.) Paula Heimann became one of the great propagators of Kleinian thought — the end of the play is the beginning of her first analysis with MK.
So it’s the tale of a mother and two daughters, a real one (who fails her) and an acquired one (who helps cements her reputation). And, of course, it’s not pleasant stuff. There’s not much goodness on display.
This Melanie Klein is capricious, arrogant, self-centred, suspicious (she locks her drinks cabinet), patrician. Melitta is put-upon, flighty, almost as self-concerned, slightly histrionic in an Evelyn Waugh/drop-head coupe sort of way. Paula is, well, creepy. She is the woman who comes to dinner — and, once she’s got her feet under the table, doesn’t leave, of course. A poor Jewish immigrant analyst, she clearly sees MK as her main chance. Latch on to her and she’ll survive and prosper. Otherwise . . .
It’s a talkie, of course. No flying, gunplay or conjuring tricks (well, only verbal ones). No warning about strobe lighting on the door. It was a night out for the listening classes — an accident that night, at least, could seriously have damaged the productive capacity of the north London therapy industry.
PS Now this is something I would have included in my book, Filthy English, if I'd known about. But which schmuck should I thank, Mel Brooks or The Onion?
Next up A variant on: leaving that aside for the moment, what did you think of the play, Mrs Lincoln?