long day
Friday, 20 April 2012

Theatre review: 20 April

This intelligent revival demonstrates convincingly why Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece deserves its first-class reputation

Written by Steve Barfield
Steve-Barfield-block-176The autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night (1941) is based on Eugene O'Neill's own family and he originally said it could not be published until 25 years after his death (he died in 1953) and never staged. However, his third wife and literary executor, Carlotta Monterey, claimed he changed his mind on his deathbed. The action of the play details a single summer's day in New England (via a restrained, but resonant set by Lez Brotherston) and the relationships between the four members of the Tyrone family.

David Suchet makes for a charismatic and tragic James Tyrone, an Irish first-generation immigrant who has made a fortune as a popular actor, but who is a notorious miser because he is still so terrifi ed of returning to youthful poverty. Despite superfi cial selfassurance, he is bitter and regretful that he chose financial safety over the risks of becoming a great classical actor.

Trevor White's James Tyrone Jr, the eldest son, can be as charming as his father, but is also filled with self-loathing, a failed actor who despises his father as much as he does himself for his financial dependency; while the more sensitive younger son Edmund Tyrone (played by Kyle Soller) is fi nally developing a career as a journalist and reviewer, but faces a diagnosis of TB and an uncertain future.

Edmund resembles O'Neill himself. Laurie Metcalf gives a skilful and moving performance as wife and mother Mary Cavan Tyrone, a depressive whose morphine addiction parallels the men's unacknowledged alcoholism.

While we are shown the frightening aspects of co-dependency in a family of addicts, it is also a moving, purgatorial drama of how people turn themselves into victims. They blame each other for their pain and unhappiness, avoid taking responsibility for themselves and become trapped as victims.

It is to the cast's and director Anthony Page's credit that O'Neill's intense dialogue still sounds fresh, as the characters blame, wound and lacerate each other in a carousel of emotional guerrilla warfare: verbal assaults are regretted immediately, but cannot stop.

O'Neill said it was 'a play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood', perhaps hoping it would help exorcise family demons. It is about the extreme, savage love within a family as well as the pain, and it is this that suggests affirmation within the tragedy.

Apollo Theatre, London W1, until 18 August: 020-7492 9930, www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk

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