Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in their respective roles as James and Mary Tyrone.
Richard Eyre’s sublime production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the final play of the esteemed Eugene O’Neill, is an example of truly sumptuous casting, as well as an evening of both reflection and thought provoking human interest. This new production direct from the Bristol Old Vic is psychological, but also utilizes colour and light symbolically, from the costumes by Rob Howell to the slowly fading sky projected on the glass backdrop, adorning his intimate staging of the Tyrones’ summer household. These elements highlight the fading facade and pretense of the family and the evidential amount of lost opportunities, regrets and skeletons which are festering in their present lives. James Tyrone, a once promising stage actor, lives off of the finances gained from a “vehicle” play which with time had squandered his versatility and talents. The shabbiness of his clothes is enough indication of his strained present financial income. He is oblivious to the pain he has caused his wife Mary and their sons Edmund and Jamie, as a result of his failings as a father and a husband. Jeremy Irons jubilantly returning to the London stage exudes an air of flamboyance and poignancy as James; a Shakespearean actor like the character, this is not unfamiliar territory for Irons. His own sense of commitment to the role shines in the production. It helps accentuate the fragility of his character and the turmoil of his own regrets and demons.
Possibly the central performance of the evening is Lesley Manville as the family matriarch Mary, a recovering morphine addict whose own child-like sense of desperation and loneliness in the middle of a family crisis is both affecting and poignant. The recent Oscar nominee captures with great magnificence a woman on the brink of collapse, and dealing with her own longing for the time when she could have chosen the religious path prior to meeting James. Her final speech at the play’s end, while having seemingly relapsed, illustrates how nothing has changed regarding the family’s problems. They may be stuck forever in a never ending cycle of bitterness and unresolved issues. The younger actors in the production Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan bring their own individual sense of weight and tragedy to their performances as Edmund and Jamie. Edmund the most intellectually driven of the two suffers from tuberculosis, while Jamie, also a once promising actor like his father, seems inclined to drink his sorrows away. Both actors capture the feelings of frustration and jaded resentment towards their father with stark realism.
The power of Eugene O’Neill’s writing is as revelatory as it was in 1956; Richard Eyre’s cerebral stage direction elevates O’Neill’s words to an already timeless and prevailing place on the London stage. There are also welcome flourishes of humour imbued in the cast’s performances to slightly offset the tragic and depressing subject matter. Making great use of its two leads, Eyre’s production is one of West End theatre’s finest of this year, remaining just as profound and powerful as when the play was first written.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs at Wyndham’s Theatre until 7 April