Writer: Eugene O’Neill
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: Iain Sykes
When Eugene O’Neill wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he wrote a play of brutal honesty, a semi-autobiographical confrontation of the ghosts of his own past. A play of such unremitting frankness he actually had it locked in a publisher’s safe with a stipulation that it wasn’t to be performed until twenty five years after his death. It is indeed a most weighty and worthy personal piece. But weighty and worthy personal pieces sometimes prove to be very hard going productions for a paying audience. Sadly, this Octagon Theatre production falls right into that category.
Detailing one dark, depressing day in the lives of the land-wealthy Irish-American Tyrone family, the first three acts of O’Neill’s four act play are, here, crammed into a marathon one and three quarter hours first act but, by the time the interval arrives, it actually feels a lot longer than that. What must be one of the most dysfunctional, unlikeable families to ever be caught in the footlights, argue, drink, make up, argue, bicker, drink, make up again, argue, before drinking some more. It’s an unrelenting round of not very much happening at all. Plays written based on personal views of family life don’t always make the best drama for external viewing.
Yes, the five-strong cast does a fine job in making these morphine and alcohol addicted characters as deeply flawed as they possibly can within the confines of the script. Margot Leicester as the morphine addicted mother wanders around in a constant stupor, constantly worried about her hair and drifting back to her days a young girl in a convent school. Brian Protheroe’s James Tyrone is the alcoholic father, drinking to blank out the mess he made of his acting talents and to put up the barriers between and himself and what’s become of the woman he loves. The two sons, Kieran Hill as Jamie and Mawgan Gyles as Edmund both follow in their father’s character as alcoholics, while constantly fighting with him. Only Gyles’ Edmund shows the tiniest bit of sunshine through the fog, facing up to his suffering from consumption. Jessica Baglow, as Cathleen the maid, deserves a mention for bringing the rare bits of humour to the evening.
Act two, with its drunken revelation upon drunken revelation, does liven the pace up a little with some lovely exchanges between Protheroe and Gyles especially but this production still feels like a very, very long day’s journey.
With three and a quarter hours of unrelenting misery and alcohol addiction, even the most teetotal of audience members may be tempted to head to the nearest bar for a relieving whiskey. While acknowledging the Octagon’s bravery in tackling this play, it’s maybe not the time or the place for this heavy- going piece.
Runs until 2 November