Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night traces the disintegration of an American family wracked by illness and addiction.
Set over the course of a single day, the play sees skinflint theatrical James Tyrone keep an agonising watch over his wife Mary as her fragile recovery collapses and she plunges back into morphine addiction.
He and his sons can only look on - helpless and horrified - as Mary’s addiction begins to emerge from behind a brittle facade – and past memories resurface.
Consumptive would-be poet Edmund and dissolute Jamie struggle to contain their buried resentments: but the suppression only serves to make the inevitable eruptions of emotion all the more powerful and savage.
As day turns to night, Mary’s descent into a narcotic reverie shreds the illusions that Tyrone has spun around his selfish life and exposes the damage wrought by his miserly ways.
David Suchet’s Tyrone is a restrained, contained man who channels his guilty vituperation into sudden sharp gestures. Resisting the urge to overplay the retired theatrical ham who betrayed his talent for money, Suchet instead gives us a fully realised human being who is finally confronted by the truth about himself and his role in the ruination of his family. Edmund and Jamie are both ably played by Kyle Soller and Trevor White.
But the star of the show is Laurie Metcalf’s luminous, white-haired Mary whose modulations from drugged recollection to sudden intense accusation force the past’s confrontation with the present and knit the play together.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an American tragedy and director Anthony Page’s solid production fails to capture the feverish glow of illness which lights up O’Neil’s poetic dialogue.
Instead it is a decent, humane attempt to tackle an intense, and intensely wordy, drama – bringing out unsuspected moments of humour that heighten, rather than diminish, the tragedy.
O’Neil gave instructions that his highly-autobiographical play should never be performed - and only published 25 years after his death. But his instructions were ignored by his wife and the play went on to win the Nobel Prize -winning playwright a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. It’s a great play and this is a great production.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is at the Theatre Royal, in Nottingham, till Saturday, March 10.