Long Day’s Journey into Night, Apollo Theatre, London West End, April 2012

Had Eugene O’Neill’s written wishes been respected this autobiographical play would not be staged: “[It] is to be published twenty five years after my death — but never produced as a play”. As it was, unforeseen circumstances persuaded his widow to have the play published and performed, knowing the anguish he had gone through in writing it.

Suchet and Metcalf as father and mother, all images Johan Persson

The essentials involve a father, mother and two sons, the younger one appearing likely to die of tuberculosis. Yet despite this grim set-up, where the father and sons drink liberal amounts of whiskey, and the mother is a neurotic addicted to drugs, there is hope. And amidst the arguments, the shouting, the put-downs, and the face slapping there is truth. At the start of part two when evening has drawn in, David Suchet as the father James Tyrone, is alone in the sitting room. He is joined by his younger son Edmund, whose criticism of his miserliness gets the response, “You’re no great shakes as a son”. This is mild compared to some of the invective, but then there is the glorious moment when Edmund talks about his time at sea, being at one with the forces of nature, and Kyle Soller handles it beautifully. As his father tells him facts from long ago, there is something more than just anger and argument. There is sympathy, and understanding that our problems stem from the depths of experiences long past.

White, Suchet, Soller as father and sons

Eugene O’Neill’s own father, the model for James Tyrone, was a matinee idol, and though devoted to Shakespeare he became typecast in a stage version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite the financial success and security this brought him he had reason to feel dissatisfied with himself, yet seems to be surrounded by wastrel sons and a morphine addicted wife, who’s eventually away with the fairies. She was beautifully played by American actress Laurie Metcalf as a gentle, yet neurotic and self-pitying woman. It was a remarkable performance, and her eldest son James Jr was robustly portrayed by Trevor White, whose drunkenness in part two was pitch perfect. Very high quality acting from the whole cast, led by David Suchet’s sympathetic and convincing portrayal of the father, and with a lovely cameo by Rosie Sansom as the maid.

It may not be a comfortable evening in the theatre for those of us who have seen family problems at first hand, but I left with a sense of optimism knowing that Eugene O’Neill as the younger son survived the tuberculosis. He then went on to survive the other three who all died within three years of one another.  Direction by Anthony Page brought this disturbing drama to life, helped by the excellent designs and lighting of Lez Brotherston and Mark Henderson.

This is theatre at its best, and performances continue until August 18 — for details click here.

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