wed 22/05/2024

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Wyndham's Theatre review - O'Neill masterwork is once again driven by its Mary | reviews, news & interviews

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Wyndham's Theatre review - O'Neill masterwork is once again driven by its Mary

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Wyndham's Theatre review - O'Neill masterwork is once again driven by its Mary

Patricia Clarkson powers the latest iteration of this great, grievous American drama

Fogbound: Brian Cox and Patricia Clarkson as the Tyrone parentsImages - Johann Persson

Memory is a confounding thing. By way of proof, just ask the Mary Tyrone who is being given unforgettable life by Patricia Clarkson in London's latest version of Long Day's Journey into Night, which has arrived on the West End (and at the same theatre) a mere six years after the previous version of Eugene O'Neill's posthumously premiered masterwork; that one headlined a top-rank Lesley Manville in the same part.

Arthritic and lonely, Mary looks towards a past where she was "so happy, for a time", away from the crushing realities of the present. Those include a consumptive young son, Edmund (Laurie Kynaston), bound for a sanatorium, and a husband of 35 years, James (Brian Cox, pictured below, left), whose miserliness has inflicted incalculable damage.

But such mental vagaries at the same time recall the son, Eugene, whom Mary long ago lost and the blame and shame that go with that, and the religiosity she once held dear that has been replaced by a testosterone-charged household given over to drink. No wonder the play finds Mary on the morphine-addicted edge, over which, at its harrowing finish, she seems rrevocably to have fallen. Brian Cox, left, as James Tyrone in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'O'Neill said of his play that it was "written in tears and blood", and the title rests high atop many shortlists of the greatest American plays, and certainly the saddest. Jeremy Herrin's slow-aborning if properly sorrowful production confirms a sense confirmed by experience that this text really does belong to Mary. Cox may be the name draw to a local audience keen to see the Scottish star of Succession back on the West End for the first time since The Weir, again at this same theatre.  

But once again, one is aware of the wounded Mary dominating even in her absence, as she draws the men in her orbit near in order to continually catch them offguard.

Which Mary will her husband and sons find the next time she enters the sparsely furnished wooden living room, itself austerely designed by Lizzie Clachan so as to connect up visually with the recesses of the mind? (In other contexts, it would make a good sauna.) It's impossible to predict, but Clarkson is in command of this difficult role from first to last, her final moments bringing her the very lip of the stage as if to impress the urgency of her situation directly upon the audience. The fourth wall is shattered, as is Mary's mind. 

At first, Clarkson's voice seems oddly flat, but you soon clock her vocal timbre as a defense mechanism to keep too much emotion from seeping through too quickly. Whereas the great Jessica Lange, a Tony winner for this same part several years ago on Broadway, was more overtly musical in her delivery, and more cajoling, Clarkson gradually lays bare the psychic abyss that Mary inhabits and the gathering mixture of truths and falsehoods that she has made of her current half-life. 

Stricken by thoughts of a tubercular father and a younger son, Edmund, who says famously of himself that he is "a little bit in love with death", Mary finds company of sorts in the family maid Cathleen, whom Louisa Harland (pictured below) plays with unusual vigour: her own fondness for drink is clearly of a piece with that of her employers. But you all the while clock in Mary a deep love for her abject husband that is at the same time tempered by anxiety and perhaps even anger; her mood swings, one senses, are in their own way all about control. 

Louisa Harland as Cathleen in 'Long Day's Journey into Night'The volatile Tyrone is the showier role, as you would expect of a onetime matinee idol who has had a barnstorming success on the stage that can't equate to early appraisals in his career as a first-rate Othello. Needling and bad-tempered, Tyrone has an opinion on everything (Ibsen really gets it) – his wife's full figure included – and his own means of control has to do with lessening the wattage in the room: cue not one but two instances where Cox must mount a table to tend to some bulbs overhead, Kynaston's watchful Edmund on hand to assist.

I've always had a particular fondness for the great scene late on where the parents vacate the stage and leave the two boys, Jamie and Edmund, to have at one another and excavate more home truths in the process. (Seared on my memory forever are Peter Gallagher and Kevin Spacey in these roles nearly 40 years ago.) 

Kynaston and, especially, McCormack do that encounter proud, the latter propelled by booze to confess an inner malignancy accompanying a son more or less dismissed by his own father as a whoremongering barfly: you sense in the excellent McCormack a rage that hasn't found rest. Edmund is the sensitive soul who can quote Baudelaire, but Kynaston communicates a keen-eyed awareness in step with an assemblage for whom lacerations are the collective lingua franca. Interestingly, two actors were previously cast in this part in this production, both of whom stepped away, but there's no sense whatsoever of Kynaston as a late arrival.

Still, I'm with James and Jamie and Edmund in awaiting every footstep of Mary, whether she is actually in the room or lowering overhead, unseen, within the claustrophobic Monte Cristo Cottage in Connecticut where this Nobel laureate's play is set. (The home is referenced in the text as "this shabby place".) And as the day turns to night and the characters' demons emerge, you're once again reminded of the formidable power of this woman at her most fragile: the tyranny of the weak restored once more to tremulous life.

One is aware of the wounded Mary dominating even in her absence as she draws the men in her orbit near in order to continually catch them offguard


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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