“I don’t feel so bad about my drinking now,” chirped Andrew as he breezed out of the Apollo Theatre after Long Day’s Journey into Night and headed into a local hostelry feeling utterly reborn as a paragon of self-restraint.
History shall record that Eugene O’Neil’s life and works were not in vain then. His famously long autobiographical drama about a dysfunctional family (which he didn’t want published until 25 years after his death and never, ever performed) has served at least one useful purpose.
Phil’s take on it did not dwell on its depictions of hard drinking. For him it came across more as a surprising prototypical Carry On Spying. MI6 could easily have recruited any of the Tyrone family. They are forever lurking and listening. They would twitch the curtains if they bothered to put some up. They are always watching each other or their neighbours through the window or suspiciously checking the level of the whisky or listening at doors or keeping an eye on what mother is up to by pretending to be asleep or following her movements when she’s stomping around upstairs. And then there’s the eavesdropping on telephone conversations…
Rupert Murdoch would probably like this. Especially as Anthony Page has cut the text judiciously and directed it at such a pace (and with such overlaps) as to ensure that it doesn’t live up to its title and go on longer than the Leveson Inquiry.
Phil had seen it once before with Jack Lemmon and those American beauties Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher but remembers little of it other than the thrill of seeing the star of his favourite film (Some Like It Hot) on stage.
The Tyrones are also always watching what they say to each other (albeit mostly unsuccessfully) as they try not to keep secrets from each other. Along with the copious spirits knocked back there are so many ghosts from the past that Sally Morgan would be in a fair old tizzy.
Actor and tightwad James Tyrone (David Suchet) performed as the Count of Monte Cristo 6000 times which makes Yul Brynner’s mere 4,500 plus turns as the King in the King and I seem piffling (what happened to stars doing long runs? These days you’re lucky if they last longer than 12 weeks). Mother Mary (Laurie Metcalf) has insomnia exacerbated by the twin foghorns of a boat at sea and her husband’s snoring.
O’Neill based the play on his own family: their home was apparently called Monte Cristo Cottage after his father’s own acting marathon. Well, you have to get your inspiration from somewhere. Heck, even Coronation Street‘s current storyline; a reaction against a proposed lap-dancing bar on the cobbles with a street in bloom competition suggests one of the writers saw London Road.
The Tyrone’s home was surely a model for the Betty Ford Clinic; they’re all addicted either to morphine or alcohol, though little sign of any of them making recoveries. Sounds impossibly dreary doesn’t it?
Amazingly it’s not. It’s incredibly absorbing. The play received the Pulitzer Prize which – as Rent and I Am My Own Wife hadn’t at that point – wasn’t the insult it is today.
They’re a funny bunch the Tyrones; rather likeable in their own peculiar way. One minute doling out affection and concern, the next screaming and shouting in a can’t live-with’em, can’t-live-without-’em fashion, but the cast deliver the goods so well it’s all very watchable. Trevor White and Kyle Soller as the sons James Jr and the TB afflicted Edmund are terrific. So is Suchet. Even the family maid Rosie Sansom makes an impression by lightening the load with some much needed laughs.
Then there’s Metcalf, drifting in and out of her addled mind before morphine morphs her into Miss Haversham. In lesser hands this could have seemed ridiculous but she’s utterly convincing and never puts a foot wrong. But it’s a testament to the others that despite her barely appearing after the interval the play doesn’t loses its momentum.
Frankly, we had wondered if this might be a bit of a slog but were extremely keen to see Metcalf as we’d loved her so much on the telly in Rosanne (and more latterly guesting as Sheldon’s mother in The Big Bang Theory). She didn’t disappoint. Expect at least one Olivier award. Phil went as far to say he could happily sit through it again (hopefully without the man behind him yawning extravagantly throughout Act 4) and he really wasn’t expecting to think that.
The only downer really is the curiously non-climactic ending as though O’Neill couldn’t really decide where to end it and just suddenly realised that it was already longer than any sensible theatregoer could reasonably be expected to sit still for.