Long Day’s Journey Into Night @ Theatre Royal
As morning breaks, it seems a day like any other at the Tyrone summer home. Successful actor James Tyrone presides over his wife Mary and their two feckless sons Jamie and Edmund. Father and sons unite in their delight over Mary, recently returned from a spell in a sanatorium, and her good health. But it isn’t long before a fog settles and tensions increase as they await the diagnosis of their youngest son’s ‘cold,’ which won’t go away. Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer winning autobiographical play charts the slow, slow destruction of a family as they tear each apart from the inside.
It’s a slow burn of a play though there is barely any relief for the characters or the audience. Family dysfunction is fuelled by a number of addictions, and they resort to ever-more brutal emotional attacks as they skirt around their own realities. Old wounds are the deepest and the scabs are continually picked at and ripped off, as the characters live in constant remembrance of old hurts. As all are fallible, it’s impossible to know who is right.
Hard going yes, but it’s still gripping, in no small way due to the performances. David Suchet’s patriarch James Tyrone can easily play the character that made him rich and famous, but he rumbles in low guttural despair as his desperately tries to defend himself. Mary’s gradual deterioration is beautifully judged by Laurie Metcalf.
Hope comes in a small shift in their relationships and makes for compelling viewing. In the face of new despair, light is shed and Edmund and his father connect briefly. Jamie’s expression of love towards his brother is moving, making his subsequent confession all the more shocking. Yet each family member is as two faced as Jamie and everyone is at war with each other and themselves.
The last image of the play is one of quiet desperation. It’s as if the fog has well and truly settled in the hearts of each character, leaving them broken and left to play out their miserable existence day after day and night after night.