Title: Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Author: Eugene O’Neill
Director: Anthony Page
Theatre: The Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue
Major players: David Suchet, Laurie Metcalf
Out of five? 4.5
Eugene O’Neill completed Long Day’s Journey Into Night, one of his last plays, in the spring of 1941 – but it didn’t find its way onto the stage until 15 years later. It’s such a personal project that it’s not difficult to understand why.
It follows a pivotal-day-in-the-life of the Tyrones, based on O’Neill’s own family, starting just after breakfast and ending at around midnight. At the outset they look like any other family, the usual mixture of affection and bickering, but there’s an indefinable edginess and the clues are planted early as to why this is a landmark day. By the end, the worst fears of James Tyrone Snr (David Suchet) have all come home to roost and the future the family appeared to have that morning has all but disintegrated.
A strong sense of failure runs through the three hour production. Tyrone was a successful actor: initially performing Shakespeare, he made his name and fortune in more popular dramas, but feels he ‘sold out’ and never achieved his true, Shakespearean, ambition. His beloved wife Mary (Laurie Metcalf) hated theatre life but followed her husband from city to city, never making any friends and finding consolation of sorts in morphene. Elder son Jamie (Trevor White) is an alcoholic, failed actor who has never emerged from his father’s shadow and younger Edmund (Kyle Soller) is a struggling writer full of trepidation about his future.
All their frustrations come to the fore during the day, their tongues are loosened and emotions laid bare fuelled by whisky or, in Mary’s case, morphene.
This isn’t an easy ride: watching the family tear itself to shreds is painful, to say the least. Director Anthony Page has assembled a tight, excellent cast and all five of them really deliver. David Suchet is superb as Tyrone: tight-fisted yet gullible, frustrated by his career and disappointed by his children yet capable of genuine tenderness. He switches from bonhomie to spiteful anger in the twinkling of an eye, bringing subtlety to a role that would be easy to over-cook. Laurie Metcalf is equally impressive as his wife. Frail at the outset, by the end she is a ghost of her former self and divorced from any form of reality or hope.
Trevor White and Kyle Soller more than hold their own as the two sons, James harbouring a simmering resentment for his younger brother and Edmund, diagnosed with TB and fearful of what the state sanatorium may hold: his miserly father is reluctant to pay more for his treatment.
It’s not a flawless play, but this is certainly a flawless production, with wonderful acting and a set that looks so realistic that you hardly notice it. Anthony Page’s production of this infrequently produced classic has had plenty of praise heaped upon it since it opened in the West End in April – and I’m not going to disagree!
Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs until 18 August at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. For more information and to book tickets, go to www.nimaxtheatres.com.
A podcast version of this review is now available to download at: http://www.cyberears.com/index.php/Show/audio/5984