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Review Round-up: Suchet & Metcalf triumph in Long Day's Journey

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Following his astonishing success two years ago in All My Sons, David Suchet returned to the Apollo theatre last night (10 April 2012, previews from 2 April) in another classic American play.

Written in 1942 but not performed until 1956 (three years after the author's death) Long Day's Journey into Night is generally considered Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece.

The play is based on the author's own family. James Tyrone (Suchet) is a once-respected classical actor who sold out for commercial success and now seeks solace in alcohol. His wife Mary (Chicago Steppenwolf veteran and Roseanne co-star Laurie Metcalf) is a morphine addict thanks to the interventions of a quack doctor when she was giving birth.

Over the course of one day the play explores the relationships between them and their sons, failed actor James Tyrone Jr (Trevor White) and poet and sea-voyager, Edmund (Kyle Soller). Rosie Sansom plays the "summer maid" Cathleen.

The show is directed by Anthony Page and designed by Lez Brotherston. Lighting is by Mark Henderson and sound by Gareth Owen.

Long Day's Journey into Night opened last night and plays a limited run at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue until 18 August 2012.

Michael Coveney

"David Suchet puts even further distance between himself and Hercule Poirot with this beautifully modulated version of Eugene O'Neill's James Tyrone in the mother of all dysfunctional family dramas Long Day's Journey into Night ... All four actors skirt round some astute editing and maintain the same sort of blistering pace that Jonathan Miller achieved in his revival starring Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey at the Haymarket a quarter of a century ago. Suchet harks back even further to Laurence Olivier's National Theatre performance but resists Olivier's barking swagger, playing a much more broken, accommodating figure with odd flashes of the commanding Shakespearean; his theatrical heyday is a fading memory, not so much a defiant recreation, as it was with Olivier ... Laurie Metcalf is brilliant throughout despite the handicap of a terrible Wurzel Gummidge white wig at the end (why do they do this?) ... It is an immensely sad and touching performance which keeps this most personal and tragic of great American plays, as it is throughout, on just the right side of a debilitating pathos. A triumphant evening."

Caroline McGinn
Time Out

"This superb revival of Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece has everything you could ask for in a drama: powerhouse performances, delicacy, great writing – and a tragic personal backstory ... David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf... are exceptional as the father and mother, James and Mary Tyrone. Suchet, his head held high and his voice full of Irish-American gravel, gives a profoundly sympathetic portrait based explicitly on O'Neill's father James ... Suchet shows the actor's thespian dignity and his generous tenderness for his wife ... Metcalf, by contrast, gives a completely unsentimental portrayal of Mary (which is) unsparing: her grace, elegance and faded beauty make it even more horrible when she pours out sweet poison under the influence of the drug, berating her sons for being born and dragging them down into her fog... This beautifully acted revival sends you into the night elated, with the sense of something understood."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

[email protected]#even the way Suchet uses a light switch or attends to a broken shoelace feels pregnant with significance#/[email protected]"Anyone who admires great acting will savour the performances of David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in this potent revival of Eugene O'Neill's shattering tragedy. Suchet is Irish-born patriarch James Tyrone … Frequently dueling with his two sons Jamie and Edmund, he's both soldierly and pathetic. It's a performance full of telling detail … James is often expansive in his gestures. But he can be miserly, as well as torn between the need to preserve his dignity and show how much he cares about his ailing wife Mary. She is portrayed with stunning conviction by Metcalf … She conveys with delicate precision yet also humanity and passion the travails of a woman long ago scarred by the loss of a child ... The moments of fervent confrontation are skilfully realised. So are the bursts of comedy ... The result is moving. It's about as far away as you can imagine from a perky night out in the West End, but deeply courageous in its account of O'Neill's anguished vision."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"At the end of this superb production of Eugene O'Neill's harrowing autobiographical play, I barely had the strength to get out of my seat. The dramatic impact is shattering. The raw pain, passion and even the occasional clumsiness of the writing are testament to a work of heroic honesty ... As the anguished, tight-fisted father, David Suchet gives a performance of high-definition intensity, suddenly seeming physically diminished as expansive hope gives way to bitter despair ... The passage in which he describes his dirt-poor childhood, which in part, at least, explains the meanness with money that possibly caused his wife's addiction, and certainly explains his sell-out career, is overpoweringly moving ... Laurie Metcalf is equally remarkable as his wife, floating around the stage like a distracted ghost ... Meanwhile, Kyle Soller movingly captures the passion, fear and vulnerability of the young playwright, while Trevor White brings a terrifying, self-loathing viciousness to his brother, Jamie. This is a masterly production of a masterpiece. It isn't easy to sit through, but the dramatic rewards are enormous."

Libby Purves
The Times ★★★★

"Suchet deploys a brilliant mastery of the text's crazy pendulum-swings from affability to rage, kidding himself that his beloved wife is cured of addiction, or ranting about his sons not knowing 'the value of a dollar and the fear of the poorhouse' before abruptly lavishing drink money on them … The same erratic mood afflicts his sons, particularly the invalidish, spiritual Edmund, wonderfully played by Kyle Soller ... Perhaps the most brilliant of all is Laurie Metcalf as the wife and mother who, during a day that begins in placid sunshine, returns to the drug. At first in ladylike denial about her 'medicine', she declines into delusion, paranoia, pathos, and unwelcome bursts of frankness. Yet all the time her underlying humanity and historic griefs show through. Anthony Page, the director, did well to keep in far more of her lines intact than other adaptations: she, as much as Suchet, is the core of this remarkable evening."

Michael Billington

"What Anthony Page's production brings out beautifully is the tortured love under the endless chain of accusation and counter-accusation. Suchet has all the qualities one looks for in James: the vocal resonance, the poker-backed bearing, the self-conscious dignity of a man who brought a Shakespearean technique to crowd-pleasing melodrama. He also conveys the miserliness in one brilliantly inventive touch … But, above all, Suchet highlights James's forlorn passion for his wife: when he tells her 'it is you who are leaving us', his voice is filled with a sorrowful resignation that stops the heart. The Chicago-based Laurie Metcalf, last seen in London in a National Theatre production of All My Sons, is even more of a revelation. She steadfastly refuses to poeticise Mary, and instead charts, with infinite precision, the degrading progress of her drug dependence. Initially simulating a chirpy gaiety, she falls apart as the day proceeds, lapsing into violent mood swings and a stream of consciousness."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Why should we believe this (celebrated) dramatic portrait of a miserly, hard-drinking, moody ex-actor? Why should believe this temper tantrum Olympics, so remorselessly brittle from start to boozy end? Three of the five characters are alcoholics. One is a druggie. The fifth is a maid ... The big draw of this confident West End production is David Suchet, playing Tyrone, We are in Connecticut in 1912 but Mr Suchet is dressed and acts more like someone from the 1930s. Tyrone is first-generation Irish American. Mr Suchet plays him with a wobbly accent and expansive gestures - taps to the chest, shrugs, disbelieving eyebrows, wide-flung palms - which are more like cartoon Noo Yawker than an orotund grandee of the early 20th century stage, albeit one with psychological problems ... The second half becomes a tiresome drunk scene ... After three hours of O'Neill you may be in need of a stiff drink yourself."


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