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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
BEYOND THE HORIZON
at The National (Cottesloe)

FARM LIFE
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Jacqueline King, James Jordan, Michael Thomson, Michael Malarkey and Robin Bowerman/ Ph: Robert Day

One, or should I say two, of the glories of the current theatrical scene in London are a pair of early works by two of America’s greatest playwrights: Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams.
 
The Royal and Derngate Northampton productions of O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon, his first full-length play to be staged on Broadway, and Williams’ student effort Spring Storm are being presented in tandem by the National Theatre, and what a fascinating “double” this turns out to be.
 
While Beyond the Horizon is the less revelatory of the two, being the play that established O’Neill as the most trail-blazing dramatist of the 1920s and 1930s, it pre-echoes (as does Spring Storm) many of the themes and ideas he would refine and develop in his later plays.
 
The setting is a farm in Connecticut in the early part of the last century. Two brothers, Andrew (Michael Thomson) and Robert (Michael Malarkey) are both in love with Ruth (Liz White).
 
Robert, the younger of the two, has about him a touch of the poet. He’s a dreamer with a burning desire to journey by sea beyond the horizon in search of adventure and the kind of personal fulfillment he has been unable to find on the farm. Andrew, on the other hand, is more prosaic. His only dream is of marrying Ruth, having a family and spending the rest of his life working the farm with his adoring father James (James Jordan).
 
When Robert, on the eve of his departure to sea, declares his love for Ruth and is surprised to learn that his love is reciprocated, he decides to stay where he is and marry her. Andrew, disillusioned, feels he can no longer remain on the farm and, against his own nature and the wishes of his irate father, goes to sea in his brother’s place.
 
In three acts, each divided into two scenes – one exterior and one interior – O’Neill describes the harrowing events that follow Andrew’s departure.
The result is the first truly indigenous tragedy in the American theater. What’s so fascinating about Beyond the Horizon is that the seeds of O’Neill’s greatest play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, are already sown.
 
At its centre is the conflict between the two brothers, just as there is between James Tyrone Jr and his younger brother Edmund. In both plays there’s an antagonism between a father and a son, and in both the father is called James. Also, both younger brothers are tubercular, and O’Neill gives the name Mary to Robert’s daughter as well as to the mother in Long Day’s Journey.
 
The impact originally made by Beyond the Horizon was tremendous. Critically applauded, it was considered not just a play but a work of dramatic literature. It ran 111 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize. Its realism made a powerful impact on audiences who, outside the domestic dramas of Strindberg and Ibsen (two of O’Neill’s strongest influences), had seen nothing quite like it before. There are also unmistakable traces of Chekhov.
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