The first thing you’ll notice is Lez Brotherston’s gorgeous summerhouse set, and when the actors arrive you begin to appreciate how much of a character it is in its own right. The light brown tones of the timber décor are echoed in the costumes and as we learn more about the family and their past, every element of the stage comes to life. With some superb lighting from Mark Henderson, the requisite journey from morning to night is realised without the need for a drop of imagination from the audience.
We are quietly introduced to retired actor and man of the house James Tyrone (David Suchet), sporting what is clearly a well-researched Irish-American accent, once you get used to it. Suchet, with famed voice coach Penny Dyer, has researched the accent so well that Tyrone’s Irish-ness varies with his emotional state. Alongside him is his loving wife Mary (Laurie Metcalf), with white-grey hair and dithering conversation that belies an ageing woman who, whilst a little restless, completes a couple who are satisfied with their lot. Even when an argument breaks out shortly after being joined by their two sons, the family picture is one that is easy to recognise and the conversational flow of the dialogue works beautifully to sell the realism. So continuous is this familial banter that, if you can remember that you’re watching actors performing a script, it felt that some of the dialogue must have been improvised, as surely a rehearsed production couldn’t be this fluid. Perhaps this smoothness of exchanges masked the emergence of a much darker undertone to the idyllic family portrait. During the first half, I became more and mrore aware that something is not right with Mary. Although inspired by O’Neill’s own experiences, it felt a little formulaic that there is in fact something not right with each of the four family members. The most opaque issue is that of the health of youngest son Edmund (Kyle Soller) who, just enough, coughs and splutters his way through the show.
What follows is a series of revelations which both expose and explain the faults of each of the characters, and again the scenario could feel a little contrived as we see the characters pair up in different combinations for each scene. There is also the odd bit of unnecessarily melodramatic cello music to cover scene changes, but such gripes are more than made up for by the performances. The family unit, including Edmund’s elder brother Jamie (Trevor White), works with fluid chemistry, and the dynamic between all four is very believable given their incredibly unfortunate circumstances. In a play that focuses on what people try to cover up, all of the actors excel in playing the subtext, keeping their emotions hidden just enough to communicate how painful and loaded their outward laughter or casual small-talk is. Despite great performances from all of the cast, Suchet stands out with a masterclass in understated subtlety. He adeptly shifts the mood from light banter to heartbreaking sorrow and back again. In one breath-taking speech he explains how James’s acting career had failed after he followed the money to play a role for so long that he was typecast. Given Suchet’s long-running television history as the famous detective Hercule Poirot, he seems perfectly placed to talk about the perils of typecasting though unlike Tyrone, Suchet’s career continues from strength to strength. Metcalf is the perfect counterpart and matches Suchet in both intensity and craftsmanship. She makes good sense of Mary’s huge stream-of-consciousness speeches, though there is a feeling that her character wallows in self-pity a little too much. Even with some fabulous comic relief from plump Irish maid Cathleen (Rosie Sansom), her scene without the boys seemed repetitious. Metcalf, however, captures a true sense of the irrationality and denial that you would expect from someone with a morphine addiction, as Mary is revealed to have. As she makes light of her situation, I felt her desperation and loneliness all the more intensely.
The characters’ attempts to gloss over their trouble peppers the play with some laugh-out-loud moments. Along with jokes about James’ lapsed-Catholicism versus the Nietzschean philosophy of Edmund, plenty of the humour is derived from sniping at each other but in an affectionate and very genuine way. This gives rise to a cathartic journey where characters say the things that they have bottled up for so long and, although the ending of the play doesn’t afford any conclusions or immediate light at the end of the tunnel, you do leave with a sense that there is hope for us all, and you should probably call your nearest-and-dearest for a catch-up.
Name of Show: Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Playwright: Eugene O’Neill
Premiered: 10 February 1956 (Royal Theatre Stockholm)
This Production Opened: 22 February 2012
Tweet: A moving portrait of family life in its darkest hours with stunning performances, drama and comedy.
Synopsis: Set within 24 hours at the Tyrone family’s summer home, the four family members reveal and discover their failings and lost passions. As the idyllic family scene is shattered by addiction and blame, the characters must strive to rebuild their relationships with some honest confessions and heartbreaking admissions. Each person has a problem. The father, James, is an alcoholic and very precious with his money. His eldest son Jamie drinks just as much and spends what little money he has in bars and on loose women. The youngest boy, Edmund, has a potentially fatal illness which his father doesn’t want to waste money on trying to cure. Mother and wife Mary became addicted to painkillers after Edmund was born and blames him for her illness and her husband for spending too little on anything. She feels trapped in what seems to be a beautiful summer house. By the end of the night, the situation is no better, but the characters understand each other a great deal more. The ending offers no firm conclusions as to what will happen but offers a sense of hope for the future.
Why See It: The acting from all five performers is excellent. The leads (David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf) are incredible to watch and as a reviewer I found myself getting so wrapped up in the action, I wrote few notes during the show. There are many interesting themes including religion and philosophy, addiction and denial and some very relatable family connections which are both humourous and sorrowful. The set, costumes and lighting provide a cinematically beautiful visual. O’Neill’s dialogue is incredible with stream-of-consciousness speeches that flick from light-hearted comedy to pain and anguish within a matter of words. Metcalf is particularly good at bringing this aspect of Mary to life.
Caveat: O’Neill’s authorial voice can be a little pessimistic and favour the nihilistic philosophy of Edmund (whom O’Neill based on himself), which might feel less uplifting than some of the descriptions of the play may suggest. Mary loses herself to long non-linear speeches of self-pity which seems a little over the top. The incidental music emphasises the melodramatic elements which feels far too overdone. The ending seems to come abruptly and doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.
- The play is based on O’Neill’s experiences before going to a sanatorium to recover from tuberculosis; the characters are drawn from his own family.
- As well as winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, he posthumously won one of his four Pulitzer Prizes for this play.
- He requested that it not be published until 25 years after his death and that it should never be performed.
David Suchet returns to the West End in Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer prize-winning masterpiece, Long Day's Journey into Night, one of the greatest American plays written in the 20th century. Directed by Anthony Page with designs by Lez Brotherston. Set in 1912, the play is a riveting view of the life of James Tyrone (David Suchet), Mary Tyrone (Laurie Metcalf) and their sons, Jamie (Trevor White) and Edmund (Kyle Soller) during one fateful summer's day. Intense and passionate, this is...
Apollo TheatreShaftesbury Avenue
London Greater London United Kingdom W1D 7EZ
Duration: 2 hours 55 minutes (one interval)
David Suchet (James Tyrone) and Laurie Metcalf (Mary Tyrone) © Johan Persson
David Suchet (James Tyrone) © Johan Persson
David Suchet (James Tyrone), Trevor White (Jamie Tyrone) and Kyle Soller (Edmund Tyrone) © Johan Persson