Long Day’s Journey Into Night - review

Posted on: 04 May 2012 by 50connect editorial

Laurence Green: Eugene O’Neill’s shattering tragedy is brought to life in this absorbing, beautifully staged production.

Long Day's Journey Into NightA family wrecked by alcoholism and morphine addiction is at the centre of Eugene O’Neill’s shattering tragedy Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which returns to the West End stage (Apollo Theatre) in a masterly new production directed by Anthony Page.

The play, which draws closely on the author’s own experience, follows a single day in the life of the Tyrone family in their summer home in 1912. It is a family wracked by addiction, despair and festering guilt. The paterfamilias, Irish-born James Tyrone, once a distinguished Shakespearean actor in his adopted America and now a rather grand has-been, has ruined his family with his miserliness, largely a result of the poverty of his upbringing. That miserliness, in turn, had caused him to engage a cheap hotel doctor who had prescribed morphine when his wife Mary gave painful birth to their son Edmund, and consequently, she became addicted to drugs. But when the story begins she appears to have undergone a successful cure, something which gains the pride of her husband.

Edmund has just returned from life at sea to deal with his own illness – TB – which initially, Mary refuses to believe, but when confirmed, causes her to retreat into a comforting cloud of opiates and childhood memories. The other son, Jamie is a disillusioned alcoholic, prone to sudden bursts of anger and chiding his father for his meanness.

Matters that at first seem straight forward, even if ugly, turn out to be haunted by trauma and what O’Neill called “hopeless hope” as the family are forced to face up to their own personal demons.

O’Neill himself described this work, which was written in 1941, first performed in 1956 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1957, as “written in tears and blood”, and this is a play full of raw pain, passion and searing honesty, as emotions are laid bare. Indeed this elegant production succeeds in conveying the themes of hostility, denial, alienation, paranoia, resentment, anxiety and familial affection so integral to the work, yet also manages to find flickers of humour in the darkness.

Director Anthony Page draws two superb central performances from David Suchet, who brings a strong intensity to the role of the family patriarch, James, his eyes glowing with love one minute and sparking with fury the next as hope gives way to despair, and American actress Laurie Metcalf as his ailing wife, Mary, a woman long ago scarred by the loss of a child and drifting around the stage like a distracted ghost as she escapes her pain with hard drugs and tender memories that seem more real to her than the present. Equally impressive are Trevor White as the corrosively cynical elder son Jamie and Kyle Soller, who movingly conveys the self-destructiveness and vulnerability of the consumptive Edmund.

In short O’Neill’s anguished vision is brought powerfully to life in this absorbing, beautifully staged production which remains firmly implanted on the mind.

Long Day's Journey into Night

Plays at the Apollo Theatre, London until August 18

Box office: 0844 412 4658

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