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A CurtainUp London Review
Long Day's Journey Into Night
"Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken." — Edmund
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Lesley Manville as Mary Tyrone and Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
When I got home at ten to midnight after a 7 o'clock start, it did indeed seem a Long Day's Journey Into Night too far. I can't be ecstatic about the extra quarter of an hour that was added to Richard Eyre's production between Bristol, where it premiered, and London, where it has opened at Wyndham's. Eugene O'Neill's classic play is a long haul and requires superb acting to make us sympathise with Mary Tyrone (Lesley Manville) rather than to condemn her for lapsing into her habit of morphine addiction.

Jeremy Irons plays her actor husband, more successful as an actor than he is as either a father or a husband but not as vicious as the two other James Tyrones I have seen. This is a play where blame should ricochet round the stage. James has seduced a schoolgirl, pretty, but not very bright Mary Cavan, but his habitual meanness has lasting effects. His refusal to pay for a doctor with a good reputation when she gives birth to Edmund (Matthew Beard) results in her being in pain and given morphine to which she becomes addicted. His elder son Jamie (played by Brad Pitt lookalike Rory Keenan) inherits his father's womanizing and alcoholic ways, spending the first act with his feet up on the sofa. Even when Edmund needs treatment in a sanatorium, James initially refuses to pay for any treatment worth having instead finding the cheapest solution.

The first act has the text delivered at a frantic pace, often with the cast speaking over each other and Mary frenetic and on the edge. Her paranoia is expressed in asking repeatedly, "Why are you looking at me like that? Is my hair coming down?" It is a case of the chicken and the egg. Does the reversion to drugs come first or is it a reaction to the suspicion she feels.

Lesley Manville hits her believable high note early on before the interval which commences with over two hours running time to go. She has been suitably padded to look as if she has gained 20lbs which her husband is so thrilled about, with the end to her weight loss alongside drug addiction. But like many addicts, the remission will not last as she reverts to, nightly pacing the floor above, and lies and deception to feed the habit. This means that she will spend some of the second act prostrate as if to emphasise how out of control she is now. Her description of her pretty, younger self when she went to James Tyrone's dressing room is mawkish.

Although Jeremy Irons has a good scene with his sons, his American accent wavers and later in the play is not there at all. We also never get any idea that James Tyrone was a celebrated actor who could control the stage, so charmless is his portrayal. However his closing speech explaining his impoverished family background and resulting parsimony is strong.

I enjoyed the scene between the two brothers where Edmund explains to Jamie his love of poetry including some of the verse by the Victorian poet of the naughty nineties Ernest Dowson, who like Edmund came from a long line of consumptives. Dowson's mother committed suicide in the road in Blackheath where I used to live by hanging herself from a four poster bed with a Victorian sized pocket handkerchief. Her husband a consumptive and failed dry dock proprietor had died in suspicious circumstances and she was going down in the world in rented accommodation.

As the Irish maid, Cathleen, Jessica Regan brings some much needed comedy as she joins Mary in drinking and then watering the whisky bottle in the hope that James will not notice. He will notice but there are more suspects for the dilution of the spirit than his wayward son Jamie.

While Rob Howell's set with its metal beams that converge towards the rear of the stage creates a feeling of claustrophobia, but it also looks more like modern architecture than the shabby Edwardian place the Tyrones live in for the summer. The furniture however does look worse for wear. The glass of the set creates shadowy figures, maybe they are reflections but I kept expecting someone to arrive.

Richard Eyre's production has flaws and feels overly long.

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Long Day's Journey Into Night
Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Richard Eyre
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville, Matthew Beard, Rory Keenan, Jessica Regan
Design: Rob Howell
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: John Leonard
Running time: Three hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5120
Booking to 7th April 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th February 2018 performance at the Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DA  (Tube: Leicester Square)
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