Long Day's Journey Into Night

Eugene O'Neill
Bristol Old Vic

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville Credit: Hugo Glendinning

Richard Eyre's production of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night is a harrowing, unnerving, remarkable experience.

Under his direction, the Tyrone family is cemented together as much by the fog of tension and dysfunction that they have created over the years, as by love, care and affection. The affection is there, unmistakably; but whenever it finds expression, it immediately gives way to fear, blame, resentment.

At the heart of this production is Lesley Manville's haunting and tormented Mary Tyrone. Anguish spills out from her every word, every glance and movement; she all but fizzes with the agony of maintaining the illusion of wellness and delivers verbal flights of remembrance and fancy with eyes half-shut, as if blocking out the intolerable reality of her life. When they come, the highs in her discourse spill out of her, as if they run just out of her control.

Around her, the family battle demons of their own. Jeremy Irons's devoted yet tortured James Tyrone hits the whiskey hard as he self-indulgently laments the might-have-been moments of his theatrical career. Their eldest son, Hadley Fraser's James Tyrone, Jr., fights to be seen for who he is and, finding that futile, succumbs to alcoholism. Edmund Tyrone (Billy Howle), an ailing poet, battles tuberculosis and tries to get his mother to face the reality of his predicament.

The men rage against their lives and against each other, their words tumbling over each other, their voices raised to make themselves heard over the interruptions of others; fury lingering just below surface at every turn. The palpable and relentless tension that holds this family together is intensified throughout and ultimately leaves the audience wrung out.

Eyre establishes a furious pace from the start and maintains it relentlessly. The family strains against the leashes that hold them together; every sentence is loaded with resentment or blame; every word of care of comfort quick to give way to something altogether darker. Amid all this, Jessica Regan's Irish housemaid, Cathleen, provides moments of real sparkle.

Mary laments, "one day long ago, I found I could no longer call my soul my own"; Manville leaves us in no doubt that her Mary is hopelessly rooted in that foggy, soulless place and Eyre's production has her family equally lost in the fog of their own making.

The men may struggle to hold on to their accents in this production, but the remarkable cast maintains a relentless grip on the struggles of this dysfunctional family.

A hard hitting, compelling and unforgettable production.

Reviewer: Allison Vale

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