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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
at Apollo Theatre

TENSION IS THE DRUG
By CLAIRE ALLFREE

  David Suchet, Trevor White and Kyle Soller/ Ph: Johan Persson

It takes barely minutes for the hairline cracks to start spreading between James and Mary Tyrone, holed up with their adult sons for the summer in Connecticut in Anthony Page’s fine revival of Eugene O’Neill’s most grueling play. All initially appears as warm and placid between husband and wife as the sunshine that dapples the plush wooden interior of their coastal house. Yet in a measure of the expert subtlety that marks out this production, tension is evident almost immediately in the jaw line of David Suchet’s James, while Laurie Metcalf’s Mary stumbles even in these opening scenes just a little with her words, her mind flitting absently elsewhere.

Page’s production barely puts a foot wrong as one day’s excoriating journey into night gradually exposes the addictions, recriminations, frustrations and stranglehold of past tragedies that trap the Tyrone family rather like a drug habit to match Mary Tyrone’s morphine addiction. Yet what Page beautifully brings out in this surprisingly tender production is the deep love that exists there too. 

Suchet – in a vague echo of his 2010 role as Joe Keller in All My Sons – offers a towering portrait of compromised patriarchy. Hints of the former Irishman before Tyrone emigrated to America subtly shine through his American accent. His bitter, harrowing regret over his decision to sell out on a fine acting career – and a parallel disappointment over his feckless elder son – explodes in bursts of alcohol-fuelled egomania. His thrifty attitude to money is a habit he just can’t quite bring himself to break. His anger over his wife’s descent into morphine is palpably born out of deep love for her, and a more selfish terror of being left on his own. Both husband and wife are in mourning for a home they no longer recognise, lonely even when they are not alone.

Metcalf is perhaps even better as Mary, needy and narcissistic, the emotional wasting that began years ago after the stillbirth of a son now matched by the physical wreckage of morphine. She seems to physically desiccate on stage, parts of her drifting away even as she clings to her love for Edmund and her insistent belief that the TB he is clearly suffering from is a mere cold.

As Edmund, Kyle Soller proves himself completely in control as the sensitive younger brother, gradually loosening his dreams of becoming a poet and burdened by his own role in his mother’s dope habit. Meanwhile, Trevor White as James, a wastrel well on the way to becoming an alcoholic and consumed with jealousy over his more talented younger brother, has perhaps the most toxic words of the play, but even in the depths of paralytic hatred can’t quite disguise a deep contradictory love.

Page’s production smoothes over some of O’Neill’s more jagged lurches into melodrama while mapping out the uneven emotional terrain of family members who need each other as much as they are compelled to hurt each other. Perhaps Metcalf’s final speech isn’t quite as powerful as it might be. But there are no great final endings in this play, no uneasy resolutions, and Page brilliantly captures the sense of a night that, once the sun sets, will likely begin all over again.

 


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