This Painful Play Is Simply A Pleasure To Watch
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"This play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood,” was how Eugene O’Neill spoke of his posthumously performed family epic. Yet, although the story of the Tyrones and their different addictions may be hard viewing, it is never hard going.
At its heart is Mary Tyrone (Oscar-nominated Lesley Manville). Her fragile mental state drives the concern of her actor-husband James Tyrone (Jeremy Irons), her two sons Edmund (Matthew Beard) and James Jr (Rory Keenan). They move around her, oscillating between love and hope for her recovery and despair and anger as she buckles under a compulsion even a play as forensic as this can only indicate. And out of this pressure-cooker, personal history bubbles up in a series of confessions that peel off layers to reveal old wounds that won’t stop weeping.
Yet as the four main characters start to tear strips off each other with pitiless accuracy, what is remarkable is the warmth that is present throughout. Grief and recrimination may swirl like a poisonous vapour in the confines of Rob Howell’s prism-like set, but like it or not, these are the foundations of their love that they find hard to shun or disown.
The acting is basically the best you will see this year in the West End — we could not pick a favourite. James is all 19th century Irish charm mixed with small-minded penny-pinching; their two sons — living at home in their thirties — are at a dead end. James Jr, the eldest, is an actor like his father but tougher, more cynical and a drunk who is scornful of love yet so clearly in need of it. His younger brother Edmund is, like his mother, stricken by ill health but he has a gentle stoicism and vulnerability that warms us more to him.
As the men attack and reconcile, and Mary defends and hides, and as words pour out in great rivers of speech, intermittently punctuated by distant fog horns, it is their imperfect love for each other that, in the end, makes the play compelling, even uplifting.
Long Day’s Journey into the Night, Wyndhams Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA. Tickets £49-£98. Until 7 April 2018.
Last Updated 15 February 2018