THEATRE – Long Day’s Journey into Night – Goodwood Institute – 4.5K

10458606_10153161744282451_5164858894072409773_nBy Peter Maddern

Anna Karenina told us that ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ but even amongst this class, the Tyrone clan of this play is particularly unique for being on the nose with each other. The opening half of this excellent production by the Independent Theatre Company is one long bellyache. Sons, Jamie (Angus Henderson) and Edmund (Benji Riggs) are at each others’ throats and that of their father, James (David Roach) who in turn berates them for being lazy or falling foul of alcohol. Somewhat ironically, it is their mother, Mary (Bronwyn Ruciak) who sort of holds them all together as they all attempt to tip toe around her addictions and abuse; it is ironic for the fact that she is as unhinged as they get.

Set over the course of just one day in 1912 in the living room of the Tyrone family’s summer house, Long Day’s Journey is indeed as lengthy (at over three hours) as the title suggests but it is a riveting spectacle; a ring side view into the circle of despair of one family, indeed the author’s (Eugene O’Neill) own. It is intimate and awkward for that honesty and for what it may also reflect in our own families. Life has its twists and turns, opportunities become mistakes, a family carries itself without ever knowing all the reasons for the why and the how and for a desperate lack of listening, a want that only starts to right itself in the final Act.

The main four members of the cast all give stunning performances, in what is a most demanding script. David Roach is tormented from the kick-off, the weight of his family’s problems and their lack of understanding are always on his shoulders but he is always the head of the house, the caring but isolated father and husband who knows how to find solace in the booze and his mates at the club. Bronwyn Ruciak’s poignant Mary is also a work of art – the morphine induced madness has her in its grip, all too obviously swaying her between dazed introspection and lashing out. Benji Riggs’ star remains on the ascent. As with Master Harold (which performance this reviewer couldn’t get enough of last year), he gives a sublime display, especially in the gripping final act, displaying an extraordinarily natural ease when confronted with the most demanding of mixed emotions. Angus Henderson similarly displays the fruits of his recently completed education at the much credited Flinders University Drama Centre.

One has to acknowledge other qualities of the production. Director Rob Croser and Roach’s set is lush and delivers a sense of the authentic, notably the nice touch of the slamming hinged screen doors. Croser’s direction, again in a challenging work, is masterful – never does one feel the players descend into excessive melodrama or become glued to their chairs. How he managed to get Riggs to deliver up those deep lung coughing attacks (from the ‘consumption’) one may never know but they helped set more of the authenticity that such a play needs to carry the day. The I.T. Crew also deserve full credit for delivering us a most useful program with plenty of chat about the history of the play, the playwright and previous productions.

The Fringe and the Festival may be over but don’t go into hibernation if you are a theatre fan. You won’t see much better than this for the rest of the year. The Long Day’s Journey into Night is a trip much worth taking.

Kryztoff Rating     4.5K

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