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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Apollo Theatre


  David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf/ Ph: Johan Persson

Eugene O’Neill didn’t know when to stop. He could – and often did – go on, and on, and on. That’s not to deny his greatness; he won a record four Pulitzers and is the only American playwright ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, there can hardly be a director anywhere who hasn’t opted to edit down his sprawling scripts. This current production of Long Day’s Journey into Night is approximately an hour shorter than O’Neill’s original, and no one can deny the benefits of director Anthony Page’s judicious pruning.

August 1912, somewhere on the New England coast. One of America’s top actors, the matinee idol James Tyrone, is sweltering through a torpid summer cooped up with his neurotic wife and his two grown sons. The elder is both a failed actor and a lush. The younger (a portrait of O’Neill himself) is a wannabe poet. During the course of this long day he is finally diagnosed with TB. A century ago that was tantamount to a death certificate.

The hideous, appalling clash between father and son that ensues is as raw as emotions get. It goes something like this: If you’ve got this disease then you’re going to die, so my spending money on trying to get you cured is like flushing my hard-earned cash down the toilet. So, his son ripostes, that means you don’t love me.

This is autobiographical agony, a catharsis that O’Neill didn’t want published until 25 years after his death and even then stipulated that he didn’t want it ever to be performed on the stage. Thank God his restrictions were flouted.

Hatred and hopes, loves and loathings, regrets, needs and wants are mixed in a lethal cocktail of accusations and pleadings. And this isn’t even the pivotal problem bedeviling this horrible day. The elephant in the room is that Mary Tyrone has once again lost her battle against addiction and is beginning to succumb to the morphine that was first prescribed to her by a hack doctor to ease her extreme pains following the birth of her younger son, Edmund, some 20 years ago.

Tyrone didn’t see the need to squander his money on a fancy doctor, and none of this would ever have happened if Edmund had not been born in the first place. How many guilt complexes and recriminations can you spin out of that scenario? O’Neill finds all of them.

As the penny-pinching patriarch David Suchet is stupendous. He is an actor thoroughly relishing the opportunity of playing an actor. Magisterial and bombastic, his Tyrone seems to expect greatness as his due. But his pomposity is mere camouflage covering over his failures as husband and father.

The long scene that opens the second half, the one between Tyrone and his younger son, is the blazing, scathing heart of the evening. Kyle Soller, an actor on the brink of a great career, matches Suchet blow for blow.

One can only feel sorry for Trevor White, who has to follow this magnificence with his own alcoholic ramblings. White doesn’t disgrace himself, in fact he’s impressive; but without Suchet on stage the emotional temperature drops.

Laurie Metcalf, one of the founding members of the groundbreaking Chicago company Steppenwolf, plays Mary as a bundle of verbal tics and stuttering mannerisms. Her desperate descent into deceitfulness as day slips into night is like watching a wounded animal being run to ground.

Unfortunately, Metcalf falls at the final hurdle. Her last scene, when she is now completely out of her head, doesn’t work. She has been absent from the stage for almost an hour, and it’s an hour during which her menfolk have stripped their emotions bare. Small wonder then that the zombie tug of her convent girlhood can’t compete with the intensities we’ve just been dragged through. Her fluttering moths of memory dissipate rather than cauterize this dark day’s end.


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