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Long Day’s Journey into Night (Wyndham’s)

Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play comes to the West End in another lengthy production, this time starring Jeremy Irons as ageing actor James Tyrone, and Lesley Manville as his morphine-addicted wife, Mary.

A claustrophobic set lined with books and lights moves the plot forward as first, we see Mary Tyrone in recovery, happy and calm, but soon realise she is in her own reality of dope heaven (or hell). In Manville’s hands the role takes on both the fierceness and deceit of an addict, along with the weakness of the wife and mother who ‘once fell in love with James Tyrone, and was so happy’.

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Irons is a theatrical Tyrone, every inch an actor and never a glimpse into the real man. He baits his sons – the shiftless Jamie (Rory Keenan) and the consumptive Edmund (Matthew Beard) – and yet can’t control even the level of whisky in the bottle he keeps on the table. He sees the girl within his wife, but can’t reach her.

The twisting hands, the trailing wedding dress, the lying on the bed with eyes open, the drifting, the drinking, the moments where just for a minute or two Mary Tyrone is happy again. It’s all about her, and the moments where Manville is absent from the stage drag, just a little, in a heart to heart between Irons and Beard where the latter just can’t catch the tragedy of the character.

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Keenan, though, is good, filled with self-loathing and self-destruction, on a spiral of disappointment by seeing addiction and disgust all around him. He has his father’s name and perhaps, his weakness too. There’s nothing but a downward spiral for all of them, in this raw and broken world where everyone lies and no one can face what’s really going on around them.


Theatre review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

This new production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play (first staged in 1956) visits Richmond and Milton Keynes before a planned run in the West End from April 2012.

The plot can be described as somewhat melodramatic, and in a way a blueprint for what we now recognise as basic soap opera plotting – this in no way diminishes the stature or power of the original play, but gives it a contemporary relevance which could be lost in the many references to dope fiends, consumption, and the kind of reckless property profiteering which was engaged in at the time the play is set (around 1912).

James Tyrone is an actor who failed by becoming a great commercial success in one part; in one lengthy reflective speech he remembers being praised by the great Edwin Booth for the technique he brought to his Othello and other great parts.  He still retains three sets of Shakespeare’s plays but knows his chance has gone.  His wife Mary seems at first a bundle of nerves but we soon realise the truth is far more disturbing as she is a long-time addict to morphine, which disturbs and destroys her mind with every dose.

Their children are as dysfunctional as one might expect, growing up in the Tyrone household.  James Jr is a hard drinking loafer, with no job and a fondness for whores, while Edmund is sensitive and fond of poetry (Swinburne, Rossetti) and is suffering from consumption – just like his grandfather on his mother’s side, who died of it.  The brothers both love and hate each other, and their relationship, plus the relationship each of them have with their parents (and the parents with each other) are explored throughout the four acts (slightly abridged) of this play.

David Suchet, as Tyrone Sr, has been promoted heavily as the star of this play, and is largely effective, although his accent is a little unsettled (there’s American in there, and Irish, as you would expect, but also at times a hint of Jewish).  In the quieter passages of the play and those with flashes of humour he is more convincing than in the times where he is required to show passion and anger – still, this could change as the play’s run continues.

As Mary, American actress Laurie Metcalf is hampered by an unconvincing wig and at times inaudible delivery, choosing to speak some of the character’s passages rather too quietly or quickly.  But as a ‘ghost in the past’ she does convince as a hopeless addict slowly closing herself off from the world and her family.  There have been many great Mary Tyrones in the past, and she has a lot to live up to.  I found her part was not quite as powerful or moving as it should be, and that her scenes with younger son Edmund disappointed.

As the children, Kyle Soller shows himself to be a fine young actor in the difficult and pivotal role of Edmund.  He is quite mesmerising at times, even when on the sidelines observing the more vocal members of his family.  Trevor White is not quite at the same level and I found James Jr rather a tiresome character, rather one-dimensional – I didn’t really care much about whether or not he returned from his binge in the whorehouse or not.  And his speech about being jealous of his sibling doesn’t quite work.

Taken as a whole, I went to this production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with quite high expectations, which were not quite met.  However, I feel that any shortcomings might be addressed in its regional runs before West End opening, and look forward to seeing  what the professional press make of it.


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