Drawing towards the end of the production (which I saw nearly three weeks ago) is Richard Eyre’s Bristol Old Vic transfer: Eugene O’Neill’s penetrating play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Award-winner actors Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville headline the roles of married couple, James and Mary Tyrone, which is now showing at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre until April 7th.
Naturally, you’d think the main reason to see the show would be to see the Lolita star, Irons, yet this isn’t the case. I’m not trying to discredit Irons’s performance here, as his character conveys part of the complexity of O’Neill’s fictional family that is pertinent to understanding the play, but it is the Phantom Thread actress, Manville and her emotionally breathtaking performance that is worth all the praise. After all, she has been nominated Best Actress in the 2018 Olivier Awards.
O’Neill wrote up to 50 plays in his lifetime. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1941) was the only work he didn’t want anyone to see until twenty-five years had passed after his death, yet his widow went against his wishes and released it for the publishers to see three years after his death. The play is said to be semi-biographical of the author’s life, which hones in on the power of addiction; be it in the form of alcohol or drugs — any means of escaping reality.
As the title suggests the events on stage take place over the course of a day, which may seem like a stretch on the eyes and ears, but the thrilling script is worth enduring. When I saw it my eyes were ready to fall asleep by the time it reached 10 pm, but I resisted the urge and kept awake – I simply didn’t want the show to end.
Rory Keenan, performing the role of James Jr. Tyrone, told me in a phone interview, “I try to remember that one of the main reasons James Jr. drinks is to escape. Either to escape his family unit or to escape his own self-loathing. He definitely has a self-destructive nature and he’s always one drink away from unearthing the dark truths he holds inside him. In that sense, I try to let him loose in the moments when he’s drunk. The drinking gives him the means and the willingness to express himself in the most bombastic and brutal way. He lives in the world of a pressure cooker and any chance he gets to let off steam he happily takes.” (Full interview with Keenan available here.)
With Keenan’s portrayal as the reckless son, I felt that the Tyrones had a mysterious past, filled with tragedy and remorse. Sadly, O’Neill only sheds light on the results of their bad choices in his writings of the show. The little brother Edmund, performed by Matthew Beard, is also another pawn in the web of family misfortunes; the family is also prone to various physical illnesses.
In this 210-minute long show (including an interval) we watch the Tyrones disintegrate and fall apart. Manville’s Mary draws our attention the most; she seems to suffer from the heartbreaking chain of events more so than the rest of the family. Rob Howell’s surrealist set designs, which transform the Tyrones’ glasshouse into a “foggy” and timeless place, are abstract and bright. They portray the intoxicated and unclear mindsets of each family member. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is about regret, reclaiming moments of the past and missed opportunities. It’s a heavy night at the theatre, but I’d highly recommend you find a way to see it before it ends.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is showing until April 7 (matinee 4 and7 April and evening performances 4,5,6 and 7 April).
For more information on the production and to purchase tickets to the show, click here.
(I purchased my own ticket to review the show.)
My interview with Rory Keenan, performing the role of Jamie Jr. Tyrone is available here.