“Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?”
Between scoring an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, returning to TV screens in superlative sitcom Mum and conquering one of the almighty stage roles written for a woman in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it is safe to say that Lesley Manville is having a ‘moment’ as a potential queen of all media, and a well-deserved one at that – she is the kind of rare talent that is genuinely due this kind of adulation.
Richard Eyre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play was first seen at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016 (have a gander at m’review here) and it transfers to the Wyndham’s pretty much intact – Manville and Jeremy Irons leading the cast once again as the troubled Mary and Joseph Tyrone, with Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard stepping in as their sons. The returning Jessica Regan rounds out the cast as housemaid Kathleen.
It is a titanic piece of writing (and a production that is now even longer than it was in Bristol) but when it is of this quality, it really doesn’t matter. Tracing the traumatic disintegration of the Tyrone family over the course of a fateful day, it is a study in mesmeric tragedy, a grindingly inevitable car crash of destiny and despair.
And at the heart of it, the eye of this anti-cyclone is Manville’s Mary – fatally addicted to morphine and full of breathless chatter that tries in vain to hold it at bay. It is a magnificent part (I’ve been blown away by all I’ve seen play it – Laurie Metcalf and Marieke Heebink) and one delivered with agonising sensitivity here – throw all the awards at her now please.
Irons can’t help but fade a little by comparison as good as he is but Rory Keenan more than holds his own as drunkard son James, no less tragic a victim or perhaps even more so as we move down a generation. In Rob Howell’s beautifully abstractly austere set, lit with piercing acuity by Peter Mumford, there’s no escaping the tragedy here and nor do we want to. It is that good.
Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Booking until 8th April