Long Day's Journey Into Night

Posted on: 20 February 2018 by Laurence Green

Lesley Manville delivers first-rate performance in this magnetic new production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night writes Laurence Green.

Long Day's Journey into Night

One of the 20th century's defining dramas of American dreams and disappointments returns to the West End in the shape of Richard Eyre's magnetic new production of Eugene O'Neill's piercingly autobiographical vision of a family bent on self-destruction Long Day's Journey into Night (Wyndhams Theatre).

We are in the Tyrones' summer home, it is August 1912. Haunted by the past but unable to face the truth of the present, the Tyrones and their two sons test the bond of a family caught in a cycle of love and resentment. The matriarch Mary Tyrone is addicted to morphine, the elder son Jamie to alcohol, whilst youngest son Edmund has tuberculosis. They are all at the mercy of the controlling power of patriarch James, a once-successful stage actor who has squandered his talent on mediocre work. As day turns to night and the family indulge in their vices, the truth unravels, leaving behind a quartet of ruined lives.

O'Neill left instruction - thankfully disobeyed by his wife - that the play should not be staged until 25 years after his death. It was full of painful revelations. He had drawn closely on aspects of his own life: an alcoholic brother, an actor father and a mother sinking back into morphine addiction. It is to Eyre's credit in this powerful revival that we feel we are living, like the Tyrones, through a day and night of alternating hope and despair, recrimination and regret. The capacity to execute emotional u-turns defines the play. One minute James Tyrone, the penny-pinching thespian, is consigning his consumptive son Edmund to a cheap sanatorium, the next he is saying money is no object "within reason" while elder son Jamie veers between belittling the literary efforts of Edmund and praising his poetic gifts. Meanwhile Mary harks back dreamily to her first life-changing romantic encounter with James and instantly dismisses herself as a sentimental fool. Yet we feel reluctant admiration, pity, even hope for the stricken people whom, however, savaged and wounded, are bound together by a sort of love.

What surprises me about this sprawling drama - which weighs in at over three and a half hours - is that it appears much pacier than previous productions and, despite its theme, is finely detailed and compassionate, lit up by flashes of wit.

Rob Howell's stylish set comprises a book-lined room and translucent walls in marine blue. Jeremy Irons brings his suave crustiness to the role of the grouchy cigar-chewing paterfamilias, James Tyrone, whilst Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard make a strong impression as the two sons, wastrel Jamie, and poet in the making Edmund respectively, facing their own uncertain futures with poignant rage and disbelief.

But the real revelation is Lesley Manville as the mother, Mary, talkative and restless, fluttering around the stage like a white moth, repeatedly touching her hair (a neat silver wig) in order to regain composure, convincing herself that her consumptive son Edmund has simply picked up a 'summer cold'! She is wounded by her husband's tight-fistedness and by guilty memories that seem more immediate than the present. A truly first-rate performance!

The last act may appear rather protracted but this is undoubtedly a production which conveys a strong emotional charge that makes it impossible to forget.

Long Day's Journey Into Night

Runs at Wyndhams Theatre until Saturday 7 April 2018.

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