David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in
Long Day's Journey Into Night
(© Johan Persson)
David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in
Long Day's Journey Into Night
(© Johan Persson)
Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night, now at the Apollo Theatre, is an emotionally demanding work -- a play of rawness and pain -- that demands the sort of excellent production it's being given under Anthony Page's direction.

The work covers the events of one single day in the life of the Tyrone family in 1912. James Tyrone (David Suchet) was at one time one of the most acclaimed actors of his day, but he has never been able to shake off the shadow of the poor house, and still flinches whenever his sons turn on more lights than necessary in their unloved summer house.

His wife, Mary (Laurie Metcalf), initially seems to be recovering from a morphine addiction that stems back many years to the death of her infant son. But it only takes one knock to set her back. When she starts to suspect that her youngest son Edmund (Kyle Soller) has consumption -- the disease that killed her father -- she retreats into an opiate fog, blanketing herself in memories from the past, the safety of her convent days: the easiness of youth before marriage and motherhood complicated things.

While the Tyrone family love one another, they feed each other's weaknesses. Page's production is one of delicate tension. All the characters are afraid of causing upset and yet they cause it anyway; in trying to protect one another, they do harm as they circle in and out of affection and animosity.

With his sonorous voice and considerable charisma, Suchet is superb as the conflicted father, whose experience of poverty in childhood led to him sacrificing his talent for a more lucrative stage career. He loves his wife deeply and yet is frustrated by her fragility, hurt by the idea of her "leaving" the present behind.

Metcalf's performance is impeccably measured; she is warm and maternal yet increasingly distant and dislocated until she reemerges at the tail end of the second half with her white hair flowing down her back, a ghost in her own home. Her descent is never melodramatic, rather a gradual, precise retreat into herself. As the fog thickens outside the window, so it thickens within her.

Trevor White and Kyle Soller both give fine performances as the pair's disillusioned offspring, Jamie and Edmund, both all too aware they have failed their parents in some intangible way. White is the more volatile of the pair, but they both share a self-destructive streak, necking whisky as if it were water, falling back on old habits.

The production captures the rhythms and repetitions of O'Neill's language, the looping quality of the writing, the way it returns again and again to the same sore spots. It's a work of subtle, building power rather than one of emotional explosion and its strength lies in its quiet moments, and it's almost insignificant, yet devastating, details.