Long Day’s Journey Into Night review: A long night but a great one | Theatre | Entertainment
At three-and-a-half hours, it is a daunting prospect but Richard Eyre’s production ensures maximum engagement and the cast is headed by two major stars in Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville so we are in safe hands.
Irons is family patriarch James, a Shakespearean actor who sold his artistic soul for easy money when he toured a popular play for years, diminishing his talent in the process.
He is now a garrulous, whisky-sodden skinflint with a propensity for losing money on get-rich-quick property schemes and he cloaks his self-loathing in a surging, restless tsunami of words and superficial emotions.
Irons engages in verbal duels with the terrific Matthew Beard who plays his youngest son, the consumptive Edmund, James quoting Shakespeare while Edmund ripostes with Baudelaire and Nietzsche.
They circle around each other like jackals while the fog closes in on their Cape Cod home and they vacillate between hatred and love, pain and pleasure, denial and confession.
Their common ground is matriarch Mary Tyrone, a once-beautiful ingénue and now a self-medicating morphine addict.
Manville is magnificent, wandering around like a ghost or the Woman In White as she shuttles between unnatural sprightliness and despair at the downward spiral of her life.
Her repeated utterances about the state of her hands and her thwarted ambition to be either a concert pianist or a nun are both funny and profoundly sad.
And Rory Keenan’s James Jr is a brutally vigorous wastrel cast in the mould of his father whose drunken confession to his poet brother is a painful aria of self-knowledge.
Rob Howell’s glass-walled set resembles a giant, dilapidated greenhouse in which the human plants are suffering from neglect.
As the fog rolls in from the sea the family bonds of suffering, contempt and love are stretched and strained almost to breaking point.
Almost but not quite. If nothing else their codependency is unbreakable. A long night but a great one.