‘Write what you know about’ is the wise guidance offered to many an aspiring author, and somewhere along a career path that brought him Pulitzer and Nobel prizes Eugene O’Neill evidently took the advice.
It resulted in him writing this devastatingly autobiographical play about his own family – on condition that it was not to be performed until 25 years after his death. His widow countermanded the instruction, and one of the great American plays of the 20th century saw the spotlights earlier than planned.
In its almost clinical dissection of the woes of the Tyrone family it makes huge demands on its small cast, and at more than three hours long, on its audiences. The painful revelations of addiction, guilt, and emotional frailty, were never going to make it an easy night at the theatre.
Octagon artistic director David Thacker is not one to shirk such a challenge and after a succession of big American ‘hits’ here, an authentic O’Neill was bound to happen.
In its ability to frame the rhythm of a family, and the loneliness it can sometimes create, Long Day’s Journey bears easy comparison to the plays of Miller, Williams or Albee, besides the even darker depths of Scandinavian writers Ibsen and Strindberg.
The Tyrones are lost in a fog of contempt and recrimination, seemingly oblivious to the foghorn warnings outside their waterside home.
Designer James Cotterill has created a book-lined boxing ring for their living room. It’s the perfect setting for one of Margot Leicester’s hand-wringing performances of motherly intensity and she covers all the bases, besides several miles of nervous pacing.
If the 105-minute first round is hers on points then the second goes largely to Brian Protheroe as parsimonious patriarch of the household. Mawgan Gyles and Kieran Hill, as the conflicted sons, give solid performances and Jessica Baglow makes the most of their impudent housemaid.
The morbid poetry of the play however, is generally going to make it more of a theatrical collector’s item than a work of wider approval.
It runs until November 2.