Long day’s Journey Into Night Lyceum Theatre

Expectations are inevitably high when watching a play described as the best work of a four-times Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Nobel Literature Laureate, and so it was with The Royal Lyceum’s new production of Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’. And like so many of these prestigious prizes, for one of us mere mortals at least, it did not live up to the experts’ ratings. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very profound piece and, for the most part, the acting was excellent. But somehow it just didn’t live up to the ‘hype’ for me. It could be said that the play is about The American Dream, centring on a day in the lives of a somewhat dysfunctional Irish-American family the Tyrones, father James, mother Mary and their two sons, Jamie and Edmund. We learn early on that they all have problems, the three men with alcohol and Mary with a drug addiction for which she has recently been in rehab. Edmund, played superbly by newcomer Timothy N. Evers, also has health issues which are revealed as the play progresses. It also becomes apparent early on that father James (Paul Shelley), although well off, is somewhat careful with money and that the family’s home and lifestyle are rather shabby as a result.

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.

Charlie Cavaye