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  • Articles by Sonali

    Theatre review: A Long Day's Journey into Night' by Eugene O'Neill


    A Long Days Journey into Night is often billed as the great American tragedy, with the Tyrone family haunted but tightly bound together by their terrible history.

    Ambition, addiction and religion lie at the heart of this Pulitzer prize winning play. Written in 1941 by American Eugene O’Neill, it’s an unabashedly autobiographical piece uncovering some murky family secrets.

    Directed by Richard Eyre, the four act play takes place over a day and night in August 1912. O’Neill’s father James Tyrone and mother Mary are played by Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville respectively. Rory Keenan is his errant older brother James Tyrone Junior. Matthew Beard is Edmund. The character actually represents O’Neill but is named after his brother Edmund who died in infancy. 

    The play is set in the living room of the family summer home in New London, Connecticut. Irons is convincing as Tyrone; the spendthrift father and husband, although his American accent does waver. Tyrone’s an actor by profession, the son of penniless Irish immigrants. He’s made his fortune by playing the same lead role in a successful production, touring around the country with his family. Irons’ Tyrone manages to seem like a doting family man but also utterly self centred at the same time. 

    If anything it’s Lesley Manville’s Mary that shines through here. She fills the stage with a pale glow as she wanders on and off the set in a peculiar daze. Mary underpins the family and the play. She recounts how life might have been different, if she hadn’t met and married Tyrone, a mere actor. Mary had ambitions of being a piano player in her youth. She’s now a ghostly, wan presence. 

    The sparsely furnished set doesn’t change throughout the production, consisting of two shabby wicker sofas on either side and a small round table centre stage around which they often sit and talk.The conversations are like everyday banter, very naturalistic. There are a few disclosures in the first half. We learn that Edmund has tuberculosis. (O’Neill suffered from tuberculosis himself). We also discover that Mary was prescribed morphine after Edmund’s birth by a cheap, ‘quack’ doctor (recommended by Tyrone). She’s been addicted to the substance since. 

    You’re left wondering what lies in store for the play’s second half. The Tyrone’s are a uniquely dysfunctional family. But, in truth, not a great deal actually goes on here in terms of real drama although we do get the rhythms of family-life. Will there be more regrets and recriminations? 

    The audience listens intently, uttlerly transfixed as Tyrone speaks of his admiration for Shakespeare’s plays. He wishes he had more range as an actor. Edmund eschews Shakespeare, preferring to read Swinburne, Poe and Baudelaire instead. Matthew Beard’s rendition of Edmund, the eloquent, budding poet, rings true. Rory Keenan brings a volatile energy to the production as actor and swaggering alcoholic James Jnr. Both sons blame Tyrone for their mothers condition. Mary wistfully recalls her school days with vivid accuracy in the eery final scene. 

    O’Neill was determined be an original dramatist, to tell his family story his own way. And it works. There’s some fine acting here driven by an excellent, lyrical script. The audience (at the Wyndham's Theatre) was spellbound by Act four.

    The family are a gifted bunch but remain bogged down by problems. In fact, Eugene O’Neill specified that the play should only be published and performed 25 years after his death, to spare any of his family alive at the time from it's scathing revelations.


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