Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Long Days Journey Into Night

Bristol Old Vic is celebrating its 250th Anniversary this year, and as part of their celebrations, they have persuaded a number of their alumni to return to the theatre, among them, Jeremy Irons. 

He returns to play James Tyrone, in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ together with Lesley Manville     as Mary Tyrone, Hadley Fraser and Billy Howle as their sons James and Edmund, and Jessica Regan as their servant, Kathleen, all directed by Sir Richard Eyre.

I have never previously seen the play, but with that line up, just up the road from home, I could'n’t resist.

The performance I saw was the first preview,  and it showed a little. This is not an easy play, nor one which is enjoyable in the usual sense.  (for those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the play, it involves cheerful themes of family dysfunction, drug addition, alcoholism, social exclusion, fear of  poverty,  and consumption).

The play is, apparently, largely autobiographical, which suggests that O'Neill had a deeply miserable life. However, although the play is not easy, there were some amazing performances.

I think that Lesley Manville deserves greatest praise - as Mary Tyrone, her performance as the deeply emotional, morphine addicted wife and mother, desperate for a home (not merely a house), tragically aware or her own weaknesses, and deeply nostalgic for her indulgent father and the religious certainty of her youth,  is absolutely stunning. 

Fraser and Howle, as James Jnr. and Edmund respectively are also both excellent, Hadley Fraser is wholly convincing as the dissolute, alcoholic elder brother, torn between his love for, and resentment of, his younger brother, and Howle is equally strong as the younger brother, facing up to his diagnosis of consumption.

Jessica Regan has the relatively small role of Cathleen, the Tyrone's maid, and does it very well - which cannot be easy, as so much of the role consists of reacting to others rather than speaking.

Jeremy Irons himself was at times compelling, particularly in his smaller gestures, and rough concern for his son and wife. He did, however, stumble over his lines once or twice, and his accent was a little uncertain, which was slightly distracting at times.

The family all come across as loving one another, but unable to beat their own respective demons, and tied in to damaging and dysfunctional relationships.

It was an excellent production of a very difficult play. Well worth seeing. Particularly for Lesley Manville's performance.

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