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Long Day’s Journey: the Trainspotting of its day


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Malcolm Fraser will be remembered for saying “Life wasn’t meant to be easy” and Eugene O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, shows a family realising how tough it can be. The family, based on O’Neill’s own, is struggling, in decline and tearing itself apart largely due to drug addiction.

The Independent Theatre consistently designs impressive sets, and for this production Rob Croser and David Roach have created a very sturdy interior of a 1912 American home with period furniture, bookcases, rooms and stairs leading off, and French doors that open to a porch.  Matthew Marciniak lights the various sections effectively, providing atmosphere and a sense of the fog in the nearby harbour that reminds us of the haze within which the characters are living.

Bronwyn Ruciak sensitively portrays Mary Tyrone, the mother who has grown old and is living with an addiction to morphine as a result of it being prescribed by her family doctor. Ruciak finds quite subtle ways to indicate early on that not all is well with Mary, and her erratic behaviour reflects her conflicted self.

Her husband, James (David Roach), and her two sons, Jamie (Angus Henderson) and Edmund (Benji Riggs), are frustrated with her reliance on the drug, but when she retreats into a spare room to inject herself, they have no reason to be judgmental, as they are either alcoholics or in the process of becoming so.

O’Neill paints a bleak picture of this family, but there is no easy way to resile from the truth and the reality of people in desperate circumstances retaining hurtful memories and harbouring guilt for wrongful deeds.

Roach’s performance as the father is serviceable, compassionate and, at times, moving. However, he is playing a man who was once an actor considered to be almost as great as Edwin Booth, and he had opportunities to better display that theatricality in speeches when the character unleashed his deeply held resentment about his sons’ lack of achievement and dependence on him.

Angus Henderson is the talented son who never realised his potential, and his drunken scene convincingly adds to the torment. Brother Edmund is suffering from consumption and must urgently get to a sanatorium, but Benji Riggs’ characterisation shifts rapidly from ill health to fighting fit, whereas some semblance of his poor condition needed to be maintained.

Heather McNab is the Irish maid, Cathleen, and she is a reminder of Mary in her youth, especially when she is a sympathetic listener as Mary reminisces while looking at a photo album; even Cathleen may be on a path to self-destruction, given her enjoyment of the offer of free whisky.


All of O’Neill’s characters have potential as actors, poets or musicians, but they have either thrown away opportunity or, in the process of ageing and taking life’s knocks, have lost their passion for or belief in life.  Long Day’s Journey Into Night is, for a modern audience, a relatively long night in the theatre. The Independent Theatre has done a fair job at presenting a modern classic and if the cast could just find a little more light and shade – and not be consumed by the darkness – it would be a richer experience for everyone.

The Independent’s programs are the most informative in town and from it I take a comment from a letter by Eugene O’Neill about the ending of the play: “At the final curtain, there they still are, trapped within each other by the past, each guilty and, at the same time, innocent, scorning, loving, pitying each other, understanding and yet not understanding at all, forgiving but still doomed never to be able to forget.”

Long Day’s Journey Into Night was the Trainspotting or Days of Wine and Roses of its day, and it is well worth a look for its unromanticised glimpse of family life and hard-hitting portrayal of living with addiction.

The Independent Theatre is presenting Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Goodwood Institute until March 28.

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