I'd always assumed that Tyrones's sporadic shows of affection in the play were phoney, but Suchet plays them for real, from the minute he enters with his arms round Laurie Metcalf's brilliant Mary Tyrone, right through to his crumpled acceptance of failure to deal with his own familial legacy, the wrecked lives of his two wasting sons.
Partly what's happened to these boys is a result of a lack of affection from their father, but Suchet manages to suggest that the old skinflint and touring ham actor is not as monstrous as they all make out. Olivier was much more frightening when he played the role, and then some. But Suchet perhaps textures the play even more interestingly, leaving more room for ambiguity in how we look at him.
Either way, this is the best James Tyrone since Olivier, certainly, and I've seen a few good ones, including Jack Lemmon, Timothy West and Charles Dance. Dance, on this very same Apollo stage twelve years ago, was way off beam but curiously compelling even though Jessica Lange walked away with the play in the last act.
That production also featured Olivia Colman as the Irish housemaid, long before she broke through on television and then, last year, in The Iron Lady and, especially, Tyrannosaur, surely one of the greatest of British movie performances in recent years. It's one of this season's mysteries to me as to why she is so vapidly disappointing in the current production of Hay Fever.
Anthony Page's production of Long Day's isn't quite as fast as Jonathan Miller's, which actually used overlapping techniques in the dialogue as it introduced Kevin Spacey to London (he was the elder son, Peter Gallagher the younger). But it's all over within three hours and makes the daring — and fully justified — decision to make us endure the first three acts before an interval.
The only thing about this is the slight cheat on the passing of time element in the play, and I'm still more drawn to the idea that it really should seem to go on for ever, with three intervals between the acts; the characters specifically carry that sense of drawn out time with them as they haul themselves through their well practised routines of sorrow, confrontation and anger.
But a West End show keeping an audience captive towards midnight is no doubt not on the cards, though I'm always surprised at how London theatregoers relish the "occasion" of a lengthy epic, as they no doubt will when the eight-hour Gatz (a word-for-word performance of The Great Gatsby) opens at the Noel Coward in June.
For modern audiences, Tyrone is one of the roles for ever associated with Olivier in Michael Blakemore's great National Theatre production of 1973 (with Constance Cummings, Denis Quilley and Ronald Pickup), just as Uncle Vanya at Chichester celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Festival Theatre and Olivier's opening season production of Vanya, in which he played Astrov.
A film of that production is playing on a loop in a wonderful exhibition, arranged and mounted by designer Pamela Howard, in the Pallant House Gallery in the cathedral city. And you can actually sit on the bench that was in Sean Kenny's design of that Vanya, while leafing through festival programmes that are made conveniently available in a pair of decorated waste paper baskets.
The exhibition's spread over three rooms, two of them covered in synthetic green grass to evoke the outdoor summer setting of the theatre in Oaklands Park, and you can relish the very high, detailed standards of costume design necessitated, as it were, by the all-round visibility of actors on that large thrust arena stage.
Other guests included David's brother, the newsreader and Beethoven buff John Suchet, political columnist David Aaronovitch (you can hear his views on the production on this week's Saturday Review on BBC Radio 4), playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, novelist Andrew O'Hagan (sprucely accompanying Observer critic Susannah Clapp with a white handkerchief in his suit jacket top pocket) and black leather-jacketed actress Zoe Wanamaker, Suchet's co-star in All My Sons.
Everyone loves David Suchet. In his RSC days, he even managed to be a fairly sympathetic Iago to Ben Kingsley's Othello. And when playing O'Neill's boozed-up domestic tyrant, there's never any sense of no more Mr Nice Guy with him: this much was certainly signalled in the unusually warm, though not over-protracted, ovation at the end.
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