by Eugene O’Neill.

Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 2 November 2013.
Runs 3hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 November.

Long journey with a riveting itinerary.
This second half in Octagon Artistic Director David Thacker’s autumn programme of 1940s plays set in 1912 is a very substantial ‘half’. So it’s as well it is, by some way, the more successful of the productions played in-the-Round at Bolton. Thacker, whose enthusiasm for the mainstream American 20th-century repertory has long been evident, triumphs with Eugene O’Neill’s swansong.

The piece, so personal the playwright didn’t want it seen until a quarter-century after his death, shows the great experimenter in modern dramatic styles returning home to slog-it out with the demons in a realistic drama based closely on his own family. Here they are, the drunken actor father whose success in repeatedly playing one role gave him the money to waste in lousy land-buying deals, but dried-up his creative inspiration, a mother addicted to morphine and a tubercular brother.

It would be easy to put the mother, Mary Tyrone, first. O’Neill gives her the final speech, drifting on when night has truly darkened, and a magical last line, a fragile memory of youth and hope.

And the casting throws a strong light on Mary. It’s not that Brian Protheroe falls short as James Tyrone. His interpretation as someone sunk into resignation with his life, rather than surging with bullish memories of stage greatness, is fine, though it doesn’t fully demonstrate the way this lion of the stage has shaped the family and its failings.

Even when not visible, his lassitude links to the others’ dependency. Mawgan Gyles mixes resistance and deception in young Jamie’s sickness, while Kieran Hill has a tougher, alcohol-assisted anger as the son following his father’s addiction.

And it makes the presence of Mary central, the figure to whom the sons look and to whom her husband has to accommodate his sense of failure. Jessica Barlow’s slatternly servant shows mundane matters slipping. But Margot Leicester, in another of her detailed, yet seemingly effortless performances, gives Mary the grace and weakness of Lyuba Ranevskaya in Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, with switches between assertions of truths she wants to believe and a dreaminess of memory particular to Mary Tyrone.

Cathleen: Jessica Barlow.
Edmund Tyrone: Mawgan Gyles.
Jamie Tyrone: Kieran Hill.
Mary Tyrone: Margot Leicester.
James Tyrone: Brian Protheroe.

Director: David Thacker.
Designer: James Cotterill.
Lighting: Mick Hughes.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement/Associate director: Lesley Hutchison.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Amy Liptrott.

2013-11-12 23:37:13

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