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Long Day's Journey Into Night (Bolton)

Alan Hulme is underwhelmed by Eugene O'Neil's classic at the Octagon Theatre.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Mawgan Gyles
© Ian Tilton

So, inevitably, a long evening's journey towards a late bedtime? Yes, but some versions have run well over four hours and director David Thacker here manages to bring it in at around three and a quarter.

But it is still a very long sit. Do we stagger out at 22.45 having been shattered by the harrowing dramatic impact of this Pulitzer Prize-winning – though not frequently performed – American classic? Well, no, not in my case I'm afraid.

We're at the seaside Connecticut summer home of the Tyrones. It's circa 1912 and one-time Shakespearean actor James has gathered with his opium-addicted wife Mary and their intelligent but wayward adult sons, the disillusioned prodigal mediocre actor James Jr. and the younger, tubercular, Edmund.

As the title implies, the play examines a day in the life of the family, a family very closely based on O'Neill's own, as he is looking back on his own mother, father and older brother - all of them dead when he wrote it between 1939 and 1941 - and his own younger self.

We eavesdrop on their most intimate of revelations as they face their demons, characters walking on eggshells around each other, fearful that any brief moments of happiness will be short-lived. Opium and Mary's addiction to it is a large part of the problem.

And although, ostensibly, it is the mother who is the addict, the males of the family are constantly consuming alcohol throughout. It's a family pulled together and then rent apart by alcohol and drug addiction, like O'Neill's own.

In other words, it's yet another of those highly dysfunctional American families that are more familiar through the - more frequently performed - works by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and so on. Aren't we getting just a little sick of them, or is that just me?

I managed to stick with it through the first half as Thacker's production is pretty swift and the cast, particularly Mawgan Gyles as Edmund, and Brian Protheroe as James, hold things together pretty well. Margot Leicester, as Mary, carries much of the burden at this point, though with a performance we've more or less seen before in other plays.

The real problem comes after the interval, as O'Neill meanders around fleshing out more revelations; beautifully written exchanges with considerable depth of character, undeniably clever stuff, but one piled on another and another and I simply lost interest, overwhelmed by the volume of material.

- Alan Hulme