Bristol Old Vic is celebrating it's 250th Anniversary this year, which is pretty awesome. To do so, they're putting on four plays from the four centuries it's been open. So far so good. The specimen representing the 20th century is Eugene O'Neill's classic, A Long Day's Journey Into Night, starring Jeremy Irons and Lesly Manville.
Although this is a classic play, I'd very little idea of what I was in for. What I was in for, it turned out, was three hours of dysfunctional family, drug-taking, consumption, alcohol and criminally negligent behaviour.
I'd like to give credit where it's due, so first of all I'll say that Lesley Manville is an amazing actress and I'd turn up to see her again in anything. Also Jeremy Irons has a lovely sonorous voice and since I was stuck behind a pillar admiring the plaster roses on the ceiling for a good part of the play, it was rather like listening to a radio play with somebody rolling Shakespearianly in the background. I'm not cross about the pillar, it gave me something to cringe behind when Jeremy forgot his lines.
Now, *clears throat* I don't blame Jeremy for this debacle. Or indeed any of the actors on stage. I blame, in descending order, 1) Eugene O'Neill, who wrote this play in the first place, 2) the Director, who thought it was a good idea, 3) whoever greenlit this at Bristol Old Vic, and 4) The Patriarchy.
Oh and Eugene O'Neill's Dad, the 19th Century, and the Catholic Church, but I figured I covered that under the Patriarchy. Anyway, without giving away too many spoilers, this play is about the Tyrone family, a miserable bunch featuring a self-pitying bully, a morphine addict, a consumptive, and an alcoholic. Who shout at each other a lot. Apparently it's based on Eugene O'Neill's actual family, which is why I blame his Dad. It is very long, and entirely without hope. Well, I did experience a brief spark when I realised it was 1912, and that soon, World War One would be along to put the younger family members out of their misery. Then I remembered that they'd have to wait an extra three years, being American, and that a consumptive and alcoholic wouldn't get conscripted anyway, at which point I found no further cause for optimism.
Mrs Tyrone, the mother of the family, is apparently a morphine addict due to her husband's stinginess in providing medical care, and her repeated breakdowns down to the fact that he won't provide her with a stable home. Both the children are wrecks, ditto. This is billed as a family tragedy. I hate to be politically correct here, but that's not a tragedy, is it? It's one person with all the power, and that person being an arsehole, and failing in their responsibilities. Which doesn't meet the Greek standard of tragedy which is some sort of unavoidable woe which is handed out by fate. All these woes are apparently the result of drunkenness, self-regard, and greed, which aren't tragic vices, they're just nasty, petty mean ones. I didn't feel a speck of sorrow for patriarch Tyrone as he bewailed how he wasn't what he could have been. I was just rolling my eyes so hard it's a wonder they didn't fall off the balcony, onto the stalls, below.
This is a terrible, terrible, self-indulgent, boring, interminable, play, and I have no idea what possessed anyone to consider it a classic, unless it were a bunch of old white men thinking that old white men woes are woes of the world, and nothing is ever their fault.
I don't blame Jeremy for forgetting his lines, I'd forget 'em too, if I was expected to learn three hours worth of this repetitious drivel.
Anyway, I'm a bit puzzled as to why this play was picked, as there are so many good plays from the 20th Century that do have contemporary resonance. The BBC put on an amazingly contemporary version of An Inspector Calls last year; or Plenty, which mirrors the slow disillusionment of post-war Britain; or An Accidental Death of An Anarchist, which could happily be played in modern Turkey, or Greece. But instead somebody chose this, which left me contemplating only one, really salient question: was there
ever a chandelier in the middle of the Old Vic ceiling, and if so, what
happened to it? How did they light it? Most importantly, can we have it back?
Anyway, I think Kneehigh are coming round next month, with The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and I'm sure it'll be fantastic, chandelier or no, so you might want to book tickets, for that.