Brilliantly acted revival gives O'Neill's masterpiece new life

Apr 12, 2012

David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf star in powerful, uplifting ‘Long Day's Journey Into Night'

What you need to know
Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning semi-autobiographical play about a dysfunctional family, A Long Day's Journey into Night, is considered to be his masterpiece, and one of the great 20th century plays. It was written in 1942, but O'Neill asked for it not to be performed until after his death (in 1953).
The story spans a day in the life of the troubled Tyrone family at their seaside home in Connecticut. Frustrated actor James Tyrone spars with his family as they face their addiction problems and past resentments.

This revival at the Apollo Theatre stars David Suchet (of Hercule Poirot fame) as James Tyrone. American actress Laurie Metcalf (Carolyn Bigsby in Desperate Housewives) plays his wife Mary. Kyle Soller plays the younger son Edmund (based on O'Neill), while Trevor White plays older son Jamie.
What the critics like
The dramatic impact of this play is shattering, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. "This superbly judged and wonderfully acted production, finds flickers of humour in the darkness as well as aching passages of desperate love." Director Anthony Page brings it in under three hours (some productions are over four), "thanks to the fluency of the playing and some judicious cutting".
So universal is O'Neill's understanding of addiction, familial love and hate that this play strikes home more powerfully than many more modern plays, says Libby Purves in The Times. "Suchet deploys a brilliant mastery of the text's crazy pendulum swings from affability to rage." But perhaps more brilliant is Laurie Metcalf, revealing the underlying humanity of her character. "She, as much as Suchet, is the core of this remarkable evening."
No matter how often you see it, O'Neill's play continues to be moving, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Page's production brings out beautifully the tortured love under the family's endless chain of accusation. Yet however harrowing it may seem, "the play sends you out of the theatre uplifted rather than depressed by O'Neill's unflinching ability to confront his troubled past".
What they don't like
The critics have almost nothing bad to say about Anthony Page's production. But Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard makes the point that it "is about as far away as you can imagine from a perky night out in the West End". Nevertheless, this is a moving production and "deeply courageous in its account of O'Neill's anguished vision".

  • At the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, until 18 August.

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