Theatre review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow

Lorn Macdonald as Edmund PIC: Tim Morozzo
Lorn Macdonald as Edmund PIC: Tim Morozzo
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There’s no doubt that Eugene O’Neill’s great 1942 masterpiece is a family drama, par excellence. The entire action is set in the summer of 1912 in the living room of the Tyrone family’s shabby seaside cottage in Connecticut. The characters are the famous if ageing actor James, his wife Mary, their two sons Jamie and Edmund, and the maid of all work, Cathleen; and the play’s subject, explored relentlessly over more than three hours, is the fraught and increasingly impossible state of relations among the Tyrones.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow ***

Yet it’s one of the outstanding qualities of Long Day’s Journey Into Night that the resonances of that fraught family situation seem to roll out across the early 20th century America they inhabit, and back across the Atlantic to the impoverished rural Ireland in which James was born; as well as down the decades towards our own age of fiercely demanding aspirations, broken dreams, and means of escape from those tensions so damaging that they can finally destroy us.

All of this is fully present in Dominic Hill’s fine new production for the Citizens’ Theatre and HOME Manchester. In style, the production is both conventional and elegant, with a streak of pure poetry. Tom Piper’s haunting set recedes from the central living-room space, and soars into the attic, like a living image of the workings of memory; Matt Padden’s radical sound design sends some of the play’s monologue sequences into the depths of the set, but then, in a dream-like effect, amplifies them to our ears.

Against this backdrop, all five players deliver performances to remember. George Costigan’s James is a living, roaring embodiment of the American dream come true, yet a man completely disabled from human decency by his obsessive fear of poverty. Lorn Macdonald – as the O’Neill character Edmund – is the centre of the drama, intense, tortured, and facing a potentially fatal diagnosis without support or solace, except in his father’s whisky bottle; despite an almost overwhelming wig, Brid Ni Neachtain is a hugely poignant Mary Tyrone, desperate to conceal and deny the raging morphine addiction that has destroyed her family.

And if Dominic Hill’s production sometimes seems to revolve too much around the desperate soliloquies of a rather introverted Mary, what it achieves nonetheless is a gruelling and enthralling account of a great 20th century drama; one that also seems like a play for today, in its relentless sense of the tragedy that results when the force of our dreams – of fame, fortune, happiness or national greatness – makes it impossible to acknowledge and deal with the truth.

Until 5 May