Home Theatre, Manchester; Friday 18th May, 2018
When Nobel- and Pulitzer-prize winning American writer Eugene O’Neill completed the manuscript for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he gave explicit instructions that not only should it not be published in his lifetime but that it should never, ever be performed as a play.
But soon after his death, the scheming producers and directors of theatre world just couldn’t resist – the show made its debut less than five years after O’Neill’s passing and almost immediately won acclaim as a modern American classic.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night spends an intense and arduous few hours with possibly one of the most annoying and dysfunctional families to have ever appeared on stage. The mother is an attention-seeking drug addict; the father is domineering alcoholic; one son is dying of tuberculosis and the other teases him for it.
And all they ever seem to do is argue – the worst kinds of argument as well: the ones where a lot of shouting and counter-shouting takes place for about twenty minutes and by the end of it no one can remember what they were originally talking about. Then in steps another character and within seconds another argument erupts.
The semi-autobiographical nature of the characters being depicted probably explains why O’Neill was so keen for it to stay hidden away while he was alive.
It’s not hard to see why O’Neill didn’t ever want it performed as a play either – this show is a performance about a war, as well as being a declaration of war in itself:
- The war being depicted is the drink- and drug-fuelled bickering of the Tyrone family, who do nothing much more substantial than shout at each other, eventually throwing a few punches as well.
- The declaration of war of is between the writing/production team and the audience: they want to deliver an orgy of old-school theatrical marvellousness; the audience just want to go home and go to bed without being too rude about it.
At three hours and fifteen minutes long (with one interval), Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a harsh test of audience loyalty, especially given the incessantly ridiculous behaviour of the Tyrone family. But there are aspects which arouse enough intrigue to warrant staying till the end.
Star of the show is Bríd Ní Neachtain in the role of Mary Tyrone: a woman who starts as a doting mother who ties herself in knots worrying about her son’s illness; but by the end she is transformed into a completely deranged mess. Along the way she slowly cranks up the madness and becomes so annoying it’s barely conceivable, or tolerable. Bríd Ní Neachtain’s acting performance is off-the-scale good, never has a fictional stage character been so preposterously annoying as Mary Tyrone.
The stage construction is impressive, a tall and imposing wooden construction manifesting three floors of the family home. The audience effectively become occupiers of yet another room in this madhouse: as the family retreat to the dining room at the rear their voices diminish and all that is heard is some faint mumbling and an occasional shout as yet another argument erupts. Most visually impressive though are the scenes involving the stairs, particularly Mary Tyrone’s frequent retreats to her bedroom, her furtive wandering on the upper levels taking on the sinister and disturbing movements of some other-worldly, ghost-like apparition.
Ultimately, Long Day’s Journey Into Night offers no satisfaction or plot resolution, it’s just a very rich and detailed view directly into the arguments of an incredibly annoying family – though, as such, it’s delivered very well. In relative terms this is a difficult and almost stressful play to watch, but if you’re looking for value for money then they don’t come much better than this.
|Visual pleasure||Beautiful, imposing set showing three floors of the family home. The use of see-through plastic sheets for the walls meant that every movement in the back rooms and on the stairs was visible, adding an acute, thriller-like element to proceedings, given some of the verbal and physical violence taking place centre stage.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Aside from the odd sound effect, this was three hours of spoken (mostly shouted) word. A few tiny segments of background music appeared but this seemed strangely insufficient when compared to the impressive visuals and acting.||1|
|Architecture & Theme||Despite being far too much huff and puff about nothing much at all, this show is at least different, and if you’re looking for value for money from theatre then this is definitely it. Lacks any particularly satisfying plot with a firm conclusion, hence is hugely dependent on appreciation of gratuitously good acting.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Quite how the cast maintained their stunningly good performance levels for as long as they did is a mystery, their delivery cannot be faulted, the lines flowed seamlessly, the anger and frustration looked so real.||5|
|Overall impact||To be fair, plenty of warning was given about the length of the performance: an entire page of the programme is given over to providing a health warning. Vast sections of this performance could have been edited out in order to shorten it and then perhaps it would have been more appealing, and it would certainly have had a greater impact. Overall though, it was just a little bit too stressful to watch.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|