Tuesday, 5 June 2012

O'Neill's Long Day's Journey, or, A Masterclass in Every Sense

This production has been running in the West End for about two months now, and consequently just about every other reviewer has got to it before me. I don't have a lot to add to the praise which it has widely garnered, but I think it is important to record those rare occasions when one is lucky enough to see true mastery at work in live performance.

The mastery in the evening exists on two levels – the first is that of the play itself, the second that of performers and production. This is my fourth O'Neill play and I've really fallen for his writing. There's a wonderful poetry to it. Occasionally it can seem drawn out, perhaps a monologue a little too long, or a scene too extended but those moments of unevenness are part of his magic. Just surrendering to his world is a rich experience.

The performances in this revival are uniformly excellent. This is the first time I've seen David Suchet on stage and he was mesmerising. Two things especially struck me – his Act Four monologue which was one of those occasions when the whole theatre is just silent, hanging on every word, every pause, and the way that the Irish tinge to his voice becomes more pronounced as the evening, and the character's drunkenness draw on – the latter is a subtle thing, part of Suchet's deep performance. He is well matched by the crazed performance of Laurie Metcalf as his wife. I was really looking forward to seeing Metcalf again as she previously impressed me as the President's lesbian speech-writer in David Mamet's gem of a political satire November (when is somebody in London going to notice that Mamet has written a few things in the last few years and stage them over here?). Her performance in this production is testament to a remarkable range – it's a completely different kind of part and she is spot on. Again it's little things that stand out – the character has an awful lot of dialogue that has to come out at high tempo – Metcalf never loses the speed, the madness and yet every word is delivered with an extraordinary clarity. Also delivering excellent performances were three performers new to me – Trevor White and Kyle Soller as the sons and Rosie Sansom as the maid.

Credit also goes to director Anthony Page and his team (including designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Mark Henderson). Visually it is spot on (reminding again, as I said about the Almeida's A Delicate Balance last year that you can achieve greatness without reinventing the wheel). In terms of movement Page, like his company, has that sense of the power of the small gesture – the touch of a hand on a knee, the potency of an embrace, the clink of two glasses.

This is a superb evening in every sense. Do not miss it.

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