REVIEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night @ the Octagon
LONG Day’s Journey Into Night. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a hoot, does it? It must rank up there with The Neverending Story in terms of unpromising titles. And at three hours twenty minutes, it feels like a long day, too.
The disappointing thing is that, in those 200-or-so minutes, nothing much happens. Worthy though the production is – it won its writer Eugene O’Neill a posthumous Pulitzer – the play is grim. And that’s putting it lightly.
The small ensemble cast perform what is a challenging script, replete with references to everyone from Shakespeare to Nietzsche, faultlessly. The semi-autobiographical drama tells the story of the Tyrone family as they face their demons over the course of a single day.
But the play, as they sometimes like to say in The X Factor about the songs acts perform, feels like “the wrong choice”. It is October. It’s nearly winter. No one has much money. We’re all miserable. So who wants to go and watch a family drink too much and argue all day and night? We can do that at home.
What seems like not too long ago – possibly a couple of years now – I watched a play at the Octagon called Love on the Dole. Like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it was an uncompromising period drama, but unlike the theatre’s current production, the script had some sparks of humour and also, despite its similarly gloomy premise, there was redemption for at least some of the main players.
It also felt relevant to today: the characters were struggling with money worries and jobs were scarce. Here, we have a wealthy Irish-American family, wallowing in self pity. No one is particularly likeable, from morphine-addicted mother, Mary (the excellent Margot Leicester) and alcoholic actor father James (nicely played by Brian Protheroe), to their ne’er-do-well son Jamie (the amusing Kieran Hill).
Perhaps only the sickly Edmund (the character O'Neill based on himself, portrayed sympathetically by Mawgan Gyles) has a glimpse of humanity, but even he, like his father, is prone to anger and bitterness. Families, eh?
There is the odd laugh here and there, mainly from Hill, as Jamie, who is a happy drunk, rather than an angry Irish one, and from the maid Cathleen (a fine comic performance from Jessica Barlow), but these moments of respite are few and far between.
There will be more popular productions in Bolton this season – Robin Hood and Brassed Off will surely be crowd-pleasers – so perhaps this is why, with these scripts up its sleeve, the Octagon has included this riskier piece.
To put it bluntly, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is downright depressing. There is a time and a place for this kind of production, but I’m not sure that time is now. Maybe it is not so much a wrong choice by the Octagon, but a brave choice.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is at the Octagon until Saturday, November 2. Tickets cost from £9 to £24, phone 01204 520661 or visit octagonbolton.co.uk
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