It’s a perk to live in Bristol nowadays. With the Bristol Old Vic celebrating a 250th anniversary this year, there’s an enviable programme to enjoy all year round, and Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ is at the heart of it. The performance was long-awaited for a good reason. The Pulitzer-prize play had the acclaimed Richard Eyre as a director, and two of the most achieved actors of today – Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in its cast.
Old Vic’s production plunges the audience into O’Neill’s three-and-a-quarter-hour autobiographical masterpiece of long lines, repetitions and familial emotions that move from one extreme to the other as if on an imagined horizontal axis. At the forefront, Eugene’s play deals with familiar estrangements that permeate all intimate relations, a paradox in itself. At the intersection of the relations between the four characters – the father, mother and two sons – one learns their individual histories bit by bit and makes sense of what they see by reconstructing the past. And this is another trait in this prize-winning text – the past pervades the present and steals the future of them all; this being explicitly said in Act II: “The past is the present isn’t it? It’s the future, too” delivered by the fallen matriarch Mary Tyrone.
There’s much to be said about addiction – the father and two sons all alcohol abusers and the mother a morphine addict – and yet this isn’t the statement that O’Neill ultimately makes. Rather, he uses addiction to portray it as a vehicle of dealing with unrealized dreams and ambitions and the sinister joke that life plays on a man.
Though faced with a single set and a never-ending dialogue between the four, with frequent repetitions, this only propels the play into more naturalness – aren’t we all repeating ourselves to those closest to us? – and the burden goes to the actors in delivering those exasperating long lines.
The full cast acted brilliantly, and yet Lesley Manville’s masterful performance shone the most, overshadowing all else. One can only admire her subtle descent into the world of fanatics and emotional self-mutilation, simultaneously natural and shocking, evoking fear and empathy.
Despite the foggy gloom, Long Day’s Journey Into Night isn’t dark and tragic all the way through. It shows things as they are, messy surely, yet leaving space for one to stand up, fight the demon and carry on loving, dreaming, and living.
Photographs: Hugo Glendinning
Long Day’s Journey Into Night continues at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, April 23. For more info and to book tickets, visit: http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/longdaysjourney.html