As the play opens, the impression is of happy and contented family life, but very quickly we are shown that as a result of the myriad of issues they collectively have, they are constantly at loggerheads with each other over one thing or another. The dialogue swings back and forth between blame and affection, showing a family both valuing their love for each other and, at the same time, holding them responsible for their problems. The three men share concern for Mary’s well-being whilst she (played by Diana Kent) swings between accepting their faults and berating them for making her the way she is. For me, the best performance of the night was by Adam Best (whom I previously saw at The Lyceum, turning in a superb performance in ‘Crime & Punishment’) as Jamie. As the elder son he comes over as desperately wanting to hold the family together, but chooses instead to escape reality through drink.
This is a new production of this work which was written in 1941-2 but only performed 3 years after O’Neill’s death, in 1956 – and its first performance in the UK was at The Edinburgh Festival two years after that – directed by Tony Cownie, who’s work I have previously praised.
But on this occasion I got the distinct feeling that (perhaps ‘as yet’) the cast had not ‘gelled’ with the whole play coming over as slightly stilted. The set too (designed by Janet Bird who’s work on ‘A Taste of Honey at The Lyceum I thought was inspired) did not work for me, with parts in which I could neither see the actors nor hear the dialogue, spoiling what I am sure should have been an inspiring work. Overall, I have to say that this was not a performance I enjoyed as much as I felt I should have.