Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the latest show in the Bolton Octagon’s new season. This emotionally complex and conflict-ridden play is at times difficult to deal with, making it compelling theatre. After all, most of us like reassurance that our problems aren’t the worst ones around, don’t we?
I’m not sure this play fits into a specific genre. Nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly a tragedy, ringing so true to the playwright Eugene O’Neill’s harrowing real life experiences, dominated by alcoholism, sickness and strife, that it was his dying wish that the play should not be published until 25 years after his death. The play also has undertones of comedy – this adds to the tragedy; quite often when we use humour, we’re not joking.
The play was around three hours in duration. A long night indeed given that the cast had lost some of my interest a considerable time before the interval. Using the same core cast members for this production as the Octagon’s previous play, An Inspector Calls, this experience was probably reminiscent of good old fashioned rep theatre for the actors involved. Sadly, I feel that they did not quite pull it off. But all was not lost.
It is clear that David Thacker had a particular direction for the production. Putting this into words is difficult, but considering the set, lighting, acting and delivery as a whole, Thacker seems to have aimed for a level of subtle authenticity representative of the era: it was moderately successful.
The set was barren and aesthetically displeasing, with a deliberately greying white befitting the mood of the play and the dire straits in which the characters found themselves. It was also soulless; perhaps a reflection of the nomadic lifestyle which the family lead. The lighting created an appropriate ambience, although at the beginning of the second half the darkness was too much – it was difficult to see. I liked the fact the play was staged in-the-round as this always adds a reality to performances and enables actors to really showcase their dramatic talent.
With the exception of Brian Protheroe who played James Tyrone Snr and Jessica Baglow who played Cathleen, the accents of these actors were awful. My immediate thought was “these are British actors trying to do foreign accents”. I’d like to surmise that these were method actors, so awash with the whiskey their characters were constantly imbibing that they didn’t know where they were from. My fear is, however, that more dialect and elocution work would have helped, rather than more alcohol. Mawgan Gyles’ accent was especially bad – at one point I heard him travel from the USA, to Ireland, then to somewhere in England. Very mixed up indeed. I had a distinct impression that Mawgan was nervous, and perhaps this stymied his performance.
Both Gyles and the actor playing his older brother, Kieran Hill, seemed at times out of their depth; these actors were acting, something an audience member should never realise. In contrast, the other performances were believable.
Having personal experience of a close family member being pumped full of painkillers while dying of cancer, Mary Tyrone – played by Margot Leicester – really struck a chord with me. This morphine-dependent mother was surely the personification of human weakness, presented in one very confused and damaged bundle. Leicester’s portrayal of Mary was good, although in reality I doubt the extent to which her character would be able to function with such an evident reliance on this horribly addictive drug. This was a huge, huge part and was performed pretty well.
I loved Baglow’s portrayal of Cathleen, the housemaid. She was, to use the vernacular, a funny little thing, and when she made her first entrance, Cathleen’s posture, walk and speech immediately made her a likeable busybody; somewhat of a paradox, I realise. Succumbing to the whiskey just like her employers gave an element of irony, hilarity and sadness to her being. Cathleen made me laugh, a welcome break from the more serious themes of the play. Baglow shone – well done.
This play was produced and directed well. It’s a shame that the cast members were not all on a par. For instance, I’m not convinced that Gyles and Hill were comfortable inhabiting the skins of their respective characters, and this was disppointing. However, on the whole, Protheroe, Leicester and Baglow proved to be safe hands. I didn’t dislike this production, but it didn’t blow me away either.
Review by Andrew Urquhart
What: Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Where: Bolton Octagon, Bolton
When: until November 2, 2013
More info: www.octagonbolton.co.uk