Thursday, 31 October 2013

Long Day's Journey Into Night @ Bolton Octagon, 26.10.13

All families are dysfunctional, but some are more dysfunctional than others. The great American playwright Eugene O’Neill insisted that his semi-autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey Into Night be published posthumously, and no wonder: it is a dark and intensely revealing look at an emotional family who are struggling to move on with their lives.

“In a real home, one is never lonely,” Mary Tyrone (Margot Leicester) tells us. The irony will not be lost on the audience; Mary is desperately seeking a sense of home, while her husband Edmund (Mawgan Gyles) is acquiring ever more property. We learn of her past spent on the road, and her exhaustion at having had to bring up her boys in “second-rate hotels.” We become intrigued as we see the family staring at Mary, expressing reluctance to leave her alone. Why are they walking on eggshells around her?

Mary comes across as neurotic and almost annoying, with a strong performance from Leicester. Yet we grow to understand Mary’s character as the night proceeds, becoming empathetic with both where she has come from and where she is coming from. In addition, the poetic, Nietzsche-reading, pale and sickly Edmund Tyrone (no doubt reflecting Eugene O’Neill himself) is brilliantly portrayed by Mawgan Gyles.

Though the play is fiercely sobering there are moments of humour from the cutting comments offered by Mary, and the comic relief of the maid Cathleen (Jessica Baglow), whose lively exuberance has the audience chuckling. The father and son battles show the strength of the male actors: James Tyrone Senior (Brian Protheroe) and his son Jamie Tyrone (Kieran Hill) are deeply disappointed with each other, and their bitter exchanges keep the audience gripped. It is rare that a play contains such consistently brilliant actors who are able to carry such a long play from beginning to end, as we accompany them on this sometimes difficult and often deeply revealing long day’s journey into the night.

Literary references abound, and are a real treat for lovers of literature. The stage designer has done well to reflect this with the many books on the set – Shakespeare, Zola, Wilde, Baudelaire and more. The symbolism of the miserly father and his concern with lining the pockets of the Electricity Board is perfectly achieved by lighting designer Mick Hughes.

All in all this is another successful play about family trouble and strife by Bolton Octagon, under the excellent direction of the talented David Thacker.

Words: Sadia Habib

Photos: Ian Tilton

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