Theatre Review - Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Brian Cox and Patricia Clarkson [Johan Persson]

Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical drama about a dysfunctional family explores emotional pain, addiction, guilt, and regret.

The matriarch, Mary Tyrone (Patricia Clarkson), a morphine addict, finds refuge in the past. When the play opens her husband James (Brian Cox ), a former actor, is delighted to welcome her home (from, we presume, some sort of clinic).

Their younger son Edmund (Laurie Kynaston), an aspiring poet, waits to hear whether he has tuberculosis, while James Jr. (Daryl McCormack) battles with his own demons and relies on alcohol and women for fortification.

As the title suggests, the play takes place over the course of one long summer’s day. Although witnessing a family fall apart is emotionally draining – and Jeremy Herrin’s production runs at three hours – you can’t rush the pace, or pare back the play without losing its force. But watching O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic can feel like a feat of endurance.

We learn of Mary’s convent education and James’s career, his affairs and stinginess – his hiring of a cheap doctor is the reason Mary was prescribed opiates after the birth of Edmund. She refuses to confront her dependence, claiming she needs painkillers for the crippling rheumatism in her hands.

In a male-dominated household, Mary is clearly lonely. She gives their maid Cathleen (a sparkling Louisa Harland) whiskey in return for companionship as they wait for the men to return from town.

The fog outside is a potent metaphor for the characters’ blindness, and self-deception. We watch Mary become increasingly befuddled while the men drink and bicker.

The cast is superb. Cox is statuesque, although he missed a couple of cues and initially fluffed his lines and Clarkson was intermittently so quiet as to be inaudible. Nevertheless, they bring huge nuance to their roles in this classic American drama.

Until June 8

Originally publshed by Westminster Extra