Long Day's Journey into Night
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
From 03 April 2012 to 18 August 2012
Review by Philip Fisher
Director Anthony Page has put together a wonderful ensemble for this revival of Eugene O'Neill's painfully realistic family drama set in 1912, so accurate that the writer did not permit its publication during his lifetime.
While the publicity for this production centres on the older couple with their impressive screen pedigrees, the whole cast excels.
Three hours fly by as we witness the troubled Irish-American Tyrones whose talent lies in saying things better left unsaid. Each of them is fatally flawed like those Shakespearean protagonists that they delight in quoting.
This trait results from the theatrical history of patriarch James Tyrone played by David Suchet. He was once a hot tip for the greatest actor of his day but diverted his ambition towards lucrative commercial success. That in itself was the consequence of a truly Dickensian mid-19th Century childhood that saw him withdrawn from school aged ten to work in a factory. This eventually turned the future actor into an "old miser" who repeatedly sacrifices his family's health and happiness to save a few dollars but is unable to learn from his mistakes.
Roseanne favourite Laurie Metcalf is making a welcome stage foray this side of the Atlantic playing his wife Mary, a lapsed convent girl whose taste for morphine has blighted her life and become the kind of addiction from which any remission is all too brief.
With these parents, the two sons had little chance of normality. The older boy, James Jr, is portrayed by Canadian actor Trevor White as a drunkard who knew early that he could never match his father's prowess on stage and instead pursues the escapism of alcoholic excess and the brief pleasures provided by loose women, including the deliciously-named Fat Violet.
The youngest son Edmund is the Eugene character. He was the latest great hope of the family but is burdened by far too much historical baggage to have much of a chance. By the time that we meet the ever-excellent Kyle Soller coughing his way through the dramas, former sailor Edmund has the kind of "summer cold" that even laymen can instantly recognise as heralding consumption.
The ebb and flow of these angry lives is played out in a Lez Brotherston widescreen wooden cabin, which represents the Tyrones' luxurious summer home from home. Here, they move between love and hatred almost on the instant, fully recognising their own and each other's weaknesses but still able to sympathise with each other, between exchanging the cruel insults that seem to be part of the family heritage.
Once Miss Metcalf relaxed into her role after a slightly nervy start on opening, the authenticity of the evening was intoxicating. As such, you could believe that you were transported into the home of the thinly-disguised O'Neills by their consumptive son Eugene, for whom a sanatorium stay turned out to be just what the doctor ordered in career terms as he emerged a playwright destined for greatness.
Long Day's Journey into Night is a great play and, after a lengthy absence from London, this production does it proud, making viewers appreciate the experiences that made Eugene O'Neill the writer and man that created this work and so many others of equal quality.