A Long Day’s Journey into Night is a mid-20th century classic. Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Eugene O’Neill delved deep into his personal and family life for what is considered to be his greatest work. The play wasn’t published until 15 years after it was it was first written. O’Neill originally expressed the wish that it not be published until 20 years until after his death. This wish was ignored by his widow and it received publication a year after he passed away.
A domestic play, the action centres around James Tyrone and his wife Mary along with their two sons. Many view Olivier’s performance in the film adaptation of the 1971 Royal National Theatre staging as the definitive production and it was only in 2012 that the play was last seen on the London stage. So what can people expect from this production?
The first striking feature of Richard Eyre’s production is the set. A tapering translucent design, when lit, offers an almost ethereal, abstract feel. It is in many ways a contrast to the naturalistic styling of the play but it doesn’t feel out of place and provides an apt backdrop to the fragile Tyrone family.
Oscar nominated Lesley Manville is the star performance of the production. Her portrayal of Mary, damaged by drugs, scarred by personal tragedy, the victim of her husband’s rash frugality is a masterclass.
Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone works well, and the part is suited to the actor’s natural characteristics. There were times where the accent dropped but with Irons’ distinctive voice, one hardly notices.
The play itself is long. Running at 3 and a half hours including an interval it is a long journey for both the characters and audience, but the writing and performances are such that the show never drags and you are wrapped up in the world of this down on their luck family. The only problem with the timing is it would be better to have a 7pm start due to the running time. Other than that, a masterly presentation of a classic piece of literature.
A Long Day's Journey into Night tickets are available for the strictly limited 10 week run at Wyndham's Theatre, which ends April 7th.
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