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Long Day’s Journey into Night

by on 19 January 2020

Complex and Intense

Long Day’s Journey into Night

by Eugene O’Neill

Richmond Shakespeare Society, Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 25th January

Review by Eleanor Lewis

It would be flippant to wonder whether three weeks after Christmas, the period during which families spend more extended time in each other’s company than they usually do, attending a performance of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night is a good idea. Flippancy aside however, if you’re going to see Long Day’s Journey into Night, RSS’s present production is the one to go to.

LongDay 2030 - The Tyrone Family (1912)

The play is set in the summer home of the Tyrone family on the Connecticut coast in 1912. It is a largely autobiographical work in which the Tyrone family of four (broadly representing O’Neill’s own family) attempt to deal with what we would today call ‘their issues’ with almost equal degrees of success and failure. What saves them, broadly, is their love for each other and their wish to redeem each other despite the odds.

Mary Tyrone (Dorothy Duffy), following a difficult labour many years ago and the advice of a semi-competent doctor, is addicted to morphine and refusing to admit it to the family. Her husband James (Francis Abbott), formerly a successful actor, is a kind, affable man who drinks too much and spends too little on his family. Edmund, their son, is ill with consumption. His brother Jamie is following their father into acting and also drink, but with additional womanising. The turmoil and general angst the Tyrones go through while they analyse themselves, each other and their past and possible future forms the basis of the drama.

LongDay IMG_3170-1

With this to work with, considerable credit must be given to director Simon Bartlett and his cast of five actors for presenting an amateur production that is as near professional as you can get without actually being professional. There are vast amounts of lines to be learnt for this work and at no point did the interaction between characters lull, drag or lose the pace of an actual conversation. Each family member was convincingly related to the others, the overall pace of the performance was brisk, and every actor on stage delivered his or her role in manner that indicated they fully understood everything they were saying and the position in which their character found themselves. This, for a complex and intense work of just under three hours’ length was very impressive.

Dorothy Duffy was superb as Mary Tyrone. She was a fragile mix of despair and keeping up appearances, her small, barely noticeable mannerisms – fiddling with the frill on her blouse, fixing her hair – a clue to the fragmenting woman beneath the beautifully presented exterior. When she talked about her long evenings alone in hotels, waiting for James when they were younger, you felt both the strain she felt and the toll it took on her.

LongDay 1310 - Mary and Tyrone

Francis Abbott succeeded in presenting the whole of James Tyrone rather than just the older, drunker result of a difficult life lived. Similarly, both George Abbott and Luciano Dodero as sons Edmund and Jamie were fully rounded individuals. Early 20th century damaged, middle class sons are easy for actors to stereotype (O’Neill, or not) but George Abbott and Luciano Dodero’s performances were well thought out and effectively rendered. Luciano Dodero was particularly poignant as Jamie, a man who knows he is losing control and cannot stop but must not show panic and must also save his brother.

The Tyrone’s maid Cathleen was played by Fiona Poole with great attention to detail. Whilst it must be said (must it?) that Cathleen had evidently toured both Ireland and Scotland before settling in the US, Fiona Poole was very endearing as Cathleen. Even if you view Cathleen only as light relief, punctuating the family traumas, this was, again, a real woman, a woman you might want to talk to. No actor in this production had an easy job.

LongDay 2236 - Edmund and Tyrone

As the title suggests, the action takes place over the course of one day, from early in the morning to around midnight the same day. Junis Olmscheid’s set – an elegant conservatory-type room, looking out onto painted sand dunes and the sea beyond – was perfectly atmospheric. Slightly jarring though were what looked like the heads of two single bed frames over two of the windows. These were both weird and mesmerising as the legs are also to be found, I think, on set. However, I understand that the actual room in O’Neill’s house was in fact constructed using some of the remains of a shop that had been on the property when it was bought and this, coupled with the fact that Tyrone does not spend what he does not have to, could explain the bed heads, but they are still something of a distraction.

Adding to the professionalism of this production was Ralph Blackbourn’s sound design: quiet piano inserts during set changes and understated sound effects, a fog horn out at sea, a car drawing up outside, Mary moving around upstairs. Subtle lighting (save for the intentionally unsubtle room light when required) by Andy Mathieson and Sarah Hill contributed gently and significantly to the overall picture. The soft changes as the fog swirled in and out outside were almost characters in themselves.

Costumes (John Gilbert, Miriam King and Junis Olmscheid) were great. The small changes and additions throughout the day were particularly effective.

Long Day’s Journey into Night, deeply loved by many people, is a play you have to commit to. Family pain is not an easy watch. O’Neill himself did not want it performed, or in fact published until 25 years after his death. It was his widow, Carlotta Monterey who insisted it was performed in 1956 (in Stockholm) and from that point onwards it met with acclaim and success. RSS have done it full justice, this is a very impressive production, well worth seeing.

Eleanor Lewis
January 2020

Photography by Pete Messum

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