Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic

“One day I found I could no longer call my soul my own”

There’s a lot of activity planned around the celebration of Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary but it is hard to imagine it being bettered than this stunning production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eugene O’Neill’s emotionally gruelling autobiographical masterpiece of a play sees director Richard Eyre reunited with Lesley Manville whose last collaboration was the superlative Ghosts which was reason enough to visit Bristol, even before the small matter of Jeremy Irons being cast against her.

And so it turned out that, along with Rob Howell’s exceptional set design, is was Manville with the magic here. She plays Mary Tyrone, the matriarch of a family blighted both by the curse of addiction and an inability to talk about anything important. Her demon is morphine, her older son’s is alcohol and her younger son is seriously ill with tuberculosis but such is the rod of iron with which father James rules the roost, that these uncomfortable truths are rarely, if at all, confronted.

It is a deeply moving play and in such assured hands as it is here, it is a most affecting production. Aching with deep-seated disappointments that come from as much love as rage, their confrontations ultimately as affectionate as angry, their inability to prevent the past from shaping their present becomes a fateful crutch over the passage of a long summer’s day. Irons makes James a cantankerous patriarchal figure raging against the very stasis he imposes on his household and Manville’s glorious Mary responds by sinking into the deepest denial, her final ‘triumph’ of revealing her secret one of the most heartbreaking things you will ever see.

There’s sterling support from Hadley Fraser and Billy Howle as the sons, trapped in a perpetual adolescence by the overbearing parental presence in their lives but reacting in different ways, unable to look forward to a future that seems so uncertain. And Howell’s set is simply gorgeous – encapsulating all the claustrophobia of their domestic prison but morphing into an abstract version of the world beyond through its glass walls and in the shimmering hues of Peter Mumford’s astutely textured lighting. With extraordinary productions such as these, you can imagine Bristol Old Vic continuing for another 250 years, at least!

Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Booking until 23rd April

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