Long Day’s Journey into Night
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Review by Julia Pirie
O’Neill called Long Day’s Journey into Night a ‘play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood’. He left instructions that it was not to be published it until 25 years after his death and never produced on stage. O’Neill’s wishes were not honoured and the play has been performed to popular and professional acclaim all over the world since. I think perhaps his instinct was right, not because of its raw autobiographical content but because of the sheer unwieldiness of its structure.
In this production Anthony Page directs David Suchet as the father of the Tyrone family and Laurie Metcalf as their ‘dope-fiend’ mother, Mary. Set in the family’s summer house, the action takes place on one day in August 1912 and involves the gradual disintegration of a family which has been treading on thin ice for years: two no-good sons (one a hard-drinker, the other a TB victim) a father scarred by his poverty-stricken upbringing and failure to make a success of a promising theatrical career; and a mother addicted to morphine prescribed for post-natal depression. Lots of tears, lots of ranting and recriminations, disappointingly little blood (though a box of memorabilia of their ‘dead baby’, Eugene, is on a bookcase centre-stage).
I saw the play in March (it is now running in London) and found Suchet’s performance disappointing. No trace of Poirot, but little instead. Was this a piece of miscasting? He seemed to me to lack the physical stature for the role played so well by Olivier in 1973; his movements were altogether too miserly (a deliberate metaphor?) and his voice lacked variety both in tone and volume. Laurie Metcalf however sustained a heart-breaking performance as Mary despite being off stage for almost all the second half. It was her evening; from the beginning you could sense it was only a matter of time before she began to unravel. Trevor White and Kyle Soller, played the Tyrone boys engaged in a series of ‘spats’ with each other and their father – too many, too similarly orchestrated for my mind, never really reaching a satisfying climax.
Perhaps some of this is the director’s fault. We, who produce and direct school plays, are used to cutting; not so the professionals. The script needed pruning. As Eliot observed: ‘Humankind cannot bear too much reality’ and this turned into very long evening of O’Neill’s.
The play is currently at the Apollo Theatre, London.