When Eugene O’Neill first wrote the play, he described it as a “play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood”. A deeply autobiographical drama, he wrote the play as an anniversary gift to his wife, whom he wanted to tell the story of his growing up and family life. He left instructions that the play shouldn’t be performed until 25 years after his death in 1953, but after his passing his wife gave permission for it to be published in 1956, and the play went on to be widely regarded as one of the best of the 20th Century.
The action takes place over one summer’s night in a seaside town in Connecticut and tells with unsparing honesty the story of the Tyrone family; miserly actor and father James (Jeremy Irons), morphine-addicted mother Mary (Lesley Manville) and sons Jamie (Rory Keenan) and Edmund (Matthew Beard), as they grapple with family problems past and present. The cast navigate the emotional intensity of the story beautifully, providing touching moments of humour amidst the tragedy.
Irons and Manville have remained in their roles since the Bristol Old Vic run, with Keenan and Beard joining the cast in perfect unity as we peer with great sadness into the desperations of this deeply dysfunctional family. It must have been quite the journey for Jeremy Irons, who first trod the boards of Wyndham’s in the original run of Godspell in 1972.
Rob Howell’s set is remarkable, setting the stage in the front room of the family house which remains permanently throughout the whole play. Its translucent walls show a glimpse to the outside world that emphasises the contradictions of the family home versus the perceived prison of Mary’s wanderings. This masterpiece of a play circles constantly around such contradictions. With it here so masterfully performed, this production is one to watch before it leaves Wyndham’s to tour the UK.
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