Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s Theatre

Patricia Clarkson and Brian Cox lead a starry but staid Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Wyndham’s Theatre

“Now I have to lie, especially to myself”

For all the divisiveness that Opening Night has ruffled up, it is still theatre that is provoking feeling, something that might be lacking in your buttocks towards the end of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I was lucky enough to catch van Hove direct it for (as-then) Toneelgroep Amsterdam in a magisterial production but in the productions that have appeared in London over the last ten years or so – Anthony Page directing Laurie Metcalf and David Suchet, Richard Eyre with Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons – this classic play has received nothing but traditional takes.

That doesn’t change with Jeremy Herrin’s rendition of the play here at the Wyndham’s Theatre. Big names are firmly attached – Brian Cox returning to the London stage after some small TV show or something and the luminous Patricia Clarkson – and a powerful sense of quality endures throughout, it just doesn’t stir the soul in the same way for me. I wonder if newcomers to the play might fare better than those who have seen it before but it does feel like the time is right for a director to boldly reinterpret O’Neill’s work next time around.

It’s not to say that this is bad, by any stretch. Indeed, Clarkson is phenomenal at evoking the haunting sadness that dominates her morphine-addicted Mary, deeply unhappy whether drugged up or not, her presence almost phantom-like any time she wants to withdraw from the family strife. Cox kinda does what you’d expect him to from his time on Succession, if not Logan-lite then definitely kissing cousins, the volatile anger of his impotent patriarch can’t help but ring that bell. There’s a sense that there’s deeper, sharper edges that could be exposed but they’re left alone.

Laurie Kynaston and Daryl McCormack both find moments to shine as the sons that this family have messed up, their fraternal bond still intact despite the alcoholism and the consumption and the parental guilt that drags on and on. Louisa Harland offers crumbs of respite though, as Irish maid Cathleen who gets to leave the domestic damage behind every night. That sense of love between the characters is vital for the success of the play but Herrin offers little additional help with his unembellished approach here, encapsulated in Lizzie Clachan’s sparse and bleak set design. He offers up some mighty acting from his fine cast but I think the play could do with more creativity if it is to return to London again in the next few years.

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