Latest Review – Long Day’s Journey Into Night [HOME, Manchester]


HOME, Manchester

Until Saturday 26th May, 2018

It is safe to say there are very few stage works that boast the true heavyweight prowess of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning magnum opus, Long Day’s Journey into Night, arguably the finest American drama the theatre has seen.

Clocking in at well over three hours, and unfolding over four unrelenting acts, O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical powerhouse sets its gaze on the troubled Tyrone family for one intense and emotionally exhausting day at their Connecticut summer house in the August of 1912.

The second co-production between HOME and Citizens Theatre, Glasgow – following the 2016 revival of Samuel Beckett’s bleak, black-comedy, Endgame – returning director Dominic Hill’s captivating and expertly judged production is an absolute triumph. Given the length of the piece, and the draining themes explored, O’Neill’s slow-burning, claustrophobic time bomb can often make for arduous viewing, though in the hands of Hill, his creative team, and a magnificent cast, this slick and explosive new production proves utterly unmissable.

It does not always make for easy viewing, though Hill’s bold, dynamic staging breathes new life into the piece, brilliantly highlighting the sprightly wit of the text to effectively cut through the stifling tension.

O’Neill’s profound tale is one of pain and anguish, accusation and blame, reflection and resentment. It is a rich, multi-layered tapestry of domesticity, disfunction and addiction, in which the family yearn for change and antagonism overshadows futile and pitiful attempts at reconciliation and sentiment.

Over the course of just one devastating day, from early morning to the wee small hours, O’Neill penetrates deep into the souls of his central quartet (all closely paralleling his own core family members) to extract bold and brutal expressions of truth in what feels a strangely repetitive cycle from which all are desperate to escape. Emotions rest on a knife edge and switch from tenderness to rage in an instant.

Long Day’s Journey into Night may be over sixty years old (and set some forty years earlier), though many of the themes and ideas explored – drug-addiction, sibling rivalry, alcoholism, depression, denial, miserliness, vulnerability, jealousy, domestic life – remain relatable and significant in today’s world.

The mighty quartet of George Costigan, Brid Ni Neachtain, Lorn Macdonald and Sam Phillips turn in tour de force performances as the four Tyrones, with Dani Heron bringing some welcome humour to the piece as the Tyrone’s young maid Cathleen.

In a performance filled with expression, restraint and emotion, Costigan excels as frugal patriarch, James Tyrone, Sr. A once celebrated stage actor, the 65-year old Tyrone deeply regrets his past decision to take commercial success over artistic fulfillment, and now finds himself reduced to the supporting role of frustrated carer for his fractured, morphine-addicted wife, Mary.

Brid Ni Neachtain is superb as in-denial matriarch Mary, drifting through the play in a fragmented, drug-induced daze, continually pained by her chronic rheumatism and refusing to acknowledge her destructive addiction. Through streams of consciousness that flit swiftly and unpredictably between caring and scathing we learn of her self-delusion and regret of the dreams she sacrificed for the sake of her husband’s career.

Phillips and Macdonald too are in outstanding form as volatile, alcoholic eldest son, James ‘Jamie’ Jr., and sickly, sensitive younger son, Edmund, respectively. Jamie is an actor like his father, though struggles to find work due to his penchant for women and whiskey and regrets his choice of career. In contrast, author surrogate Edmund is far more intellectually inclined and demonstrates a real flair for poetry. For his mother’s sake, he attempts to hide his symptoms of consumption (the condition that killed her father and for which O’Neill himself was admitted to a sanatorium to treat) in an attempt to repair the fractures in the family unit, though still finds the strength to verbally lash out when pushed, particularly at his father’s cheap choice of doctor. Both sons are totally broke and live at home, yet despite still relying on their father for everything, bitterly resent his obsessive miserliness, without understanding the reasons behind it.

Aside from a well-decorated downstairs, Tom Piper’s sparse and unconventional multi-level set makes use of bare, wooden beams and clear polythene sheeting to create an eerie skeletal effect, cleverly exposing the fragile foundations as we witness the family slowly crumble within; it is simply a shell of a house that will never feel like a home.

Continuing with the unsettling tone, Ben Ormerod’s moody, atmospheric lighting design is particularly effective in enhancing the overhanging gloom, despite a large portion of the play unfolding during the bright light of day.

Despite the gruelling demands of the piece, Long Day’s Journey into Night has seen a number of high profile West End and Broadway revivals in recent years, with A-list casts featuring the likes of David Suchet, Laurie Metcalf, Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Irons, and Lesley Manville, and with many more sure to follow suit. However, if this exhilarating and captivating new revival is the only production you get to see, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Running Time: 3 hours and 15-minutes (approx.), including one 15-minute interval.

Final Performance at HOME, Manchester: Saturday 26th May, 2018

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

Top Image: George Costigan (James Tyrone) and Bríd Ní Neachtain (Mary Cavan Tyrone) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Dominic Hill, at HOME Manchester, Thu 10 – Sat 26 May 2018 (photo by Tim Morozzo).

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