Long Day's Journey Into Night

Eugene O'Neill
Royal Lyceum Theatre Company
Lyceum, Edinburgh

Paul Shelley as James Tyrone and Diana Kent as Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night Credit: Alan McCredie

Eugene O'Neill's play was not staged until after his death; in Britain it was first staged here at the Lyceum as part of the 1958 Edinburgh International Festival. This was against O'Neill's wishes for a 25-year embargo after his death.

Over half a century later, the play is back at the Lyceum, opening the 2014 season with a solid wooden set and an even sturdier cast.

The play is a day in the life of the Tyrone family at their summer seaside home in Connecticut. James Tyrone (Paul Shelley) is a retired actor, who has moved his money into property. Shelley's patriarch is full of pride and big words, but he lacks the ability to really enjoy his wealth.

His other weakness is drink a problem he has passed on to his sons Jamie (Adam Best) and Edmund (Timothy N Evers). The mother Mary Tyrone (Diana Kent) has addiction problems too but with opiates rather than alcohol. These two major themes of money and addiction and how they affect a family mean a modern audience has no problem identifying with the play.

While James becomes more aggressive and more sure of himself with whiskey, his wife, who also gets more intoxicated as the day goes on, becomes reflective and also disconnected. Kent makes Mary seem so fragile compared to James's vigour; she appears to almost be blown around the stage. A sobering portrayal of addiction.

The sons are equally contrasting with Best's Jamie more like his father and Edmund played with quiet eloquence by Evers. Edmund is the other tragedy in the family, although arguably this is a family of tragic characters. With the diagnosis of his illness forming a key part of the plot. Evers shows his character's illness through his movements and stare without overblowing the coughing.

The play has been cut, but without doing any harm. The whole piece flows very well and there is certainly never a dull moment. All the characters are important, even Cathleen the Irish maid who gets little time on stage, a fiesty turn from Lyceum regular Nicola Roy.

The backdrop to the action is a solid wooden set with its imposing staircase and the rather shabby looking furniture hinting at James's frugality. The staircase plays a very important role and, being so large and centrally located, adds all the more to Mary's frequent journey's upstairs in search of solace.

A dark and moving drama of a family failing to deal with their problems.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin