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Long Day’s Journey Into Night

  • Theatre, Drama
  • Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s Theatre, 2024
Photo: Johan PerssonBrian Cox

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Brian Cox stars in this tender take on Eugene O’Neill’s shattering masterpiece

Having signed his life over to a little show called ‘Succession’ for six years, Brian Cox is both making up for lost time and gleefully cashing in his move from ‘well-respected actor’ to ‘bona fide superstar’. 

Last autumn he warmed up by starring as JS Bach in new play ‘The Score’ at Theatre Royal Bath. And now he returns to the West End for the first time in a decade to headline Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’. 

Hopefully he’s got a bit more in the tank after this, as despite a superb supporting cast, I’d say Cox doesn’t quite nail the role of James Tyrone, the patriarch of a disintegrating family, heavily based on O’Neill’s own dad (the playwright famously refused to allow the play be staged until after his death).

Cox is decent, but I found his performance diffused by the production: director Jeremy Herrin takes a typically forgiving view of the Tyrones, which pays off elsewhere, but I think blunts Cox’s James; a successful actor embittered by creative failure and his failure as a father and husband.

There‘s also another issue: fair or not, it’s hard to shake comparisons to Logan Roy - speaking in the same fruity brogue and in a role that’s very much about a father attempting to relate to his troubled sons who he himself has fucked up, there’s just something a bit… unhelpful about the resonance. The men are not the same: James is a frailer figure than the monstrous Logan (he certainly swears a lot less). But aspects of his Logan blur into his James and leave this character a bit lacking in definition. I think even a different accent would have helped.

He is still good, and his performance exerts more of a hold over the role as the play wears on, particularly the scene set in the quiet of the night when a tired James finally confesses his sense of failure to his son Edmund (Laurie Kynaston). 

It is desperately sad

The warmer, more-generous-than-usual direction finds its best outlet in a superlative turn from US actor Patricia Clarkson as James’s wife Mary. She is a character who can come across as waspish and embittered, and rightly so.

But Clarkson has taken a different route: when she’s not loaded on pills, her Mary comes across like a sad, wise ghost. When she tells James that he never allowed their house to feel like a home, or when she brings up his past infidelities, she does so not to wound but to plaintively state the truth of her situation. Even when she’s unable to admit to her family that she is taking pills again, you can understand why she turns to them. She describes a lonely life shackled to James’s career, boxed in by her family’s concern for her, haunted by the death of her second son. When she sinks into a narcotic fug she’s still the same gentle woman, only she has briefly dissolved her unbearable present. It is desperately sad.

In a role that has somehow been recast twice since this production was announced, Kynaston is very solid as a peppy Edmund - his boyishness hasn’t been ruined by booze and bitterness; he’s the most vital member of this moribund family; we believe he might overcome his illness. I liked Daryl McCormack in the smaller-but-vital role of older brother Jamie – he brings a plain-spokenness to the part, and a palpable sense of love and care for Kynaston’s Edmund. Even when he drunkenly admits his darkest thoughts, there’s the sense he’s only doing so because he wants to protect his little brother. There’s also a lovely turn from Louisa Harland as the Tyrones’s sparky Irish maid Cathleen – she’s funny, but moreover, she’s undamaged; there’s something soothing about her brief appearances, a reminder the whole world isn’t as messed up as this family.

Herrin’s warm approach works a little better here than it did with his recent revival of ‘The Glass Menagerie’: it is key to O’Neill’s magnum opus that the Tyrones love each other deeply, regardless of what a disaster they have made of it. 

Still, I’d like to see a bit more daring than a tweak to the acting next time this play is revived. This is the third ‘Long Day’s Journey’ to hit the West End in 12 years, and none have exactly been formally wild. There’s some nifty sound design here from Tom Gibbons – sepulchral fog horns, and subtler ambient sounds – but mostly this is a very straight production. It remains a truly great play, perhaps the greatest American play of them all, but while the masterworks of O’Neill’s peers Miller and Williams have proven ripe for dramatic reinvention in recent years, ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ seems curiously resistant. It’s a daunting play, yes, but it shouldn’t be a museum piece.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


Wyndham's Theatre
Charing Cross Road
Tube: Leicester Square; Rail: Charing Cross
£25-£150. Runs 3hrs 30min

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