Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Light and shade are everything in Tony Cownie's new production of Eugene O'Neill's mighty quasi-autobiographical epic. This is the case from the way the house lights are kept up on the audience during the bright first act of what initially looks like an everyday family breakfast among the Tyrone clan led by the patriarchal James, to the way James' penny-pinching dimming of the living room bulbs reflects the day's ever darkening mood.
“I've never missed a performance yet,” says James at one point, and this is the case both onstage and off for an old ham whose acting career slid into mediocrity years before. James and his two sons, the feckless James Jr and the smart but consumptive Edmund are always 'on', especially when their hopped-up mother Mary is around. Mary's own mask of prim self-consciousness that hides a lifetime of disappointment slips after every hit. Years of gathered baggage has left several elephants in the room, and it's telling that the only honest things that comes out of anybody's mouth is when their inner ugliness is left exposed by booze-soaked exchanges where even the whisky is watered down.
Paul Shelley's James is a more avuncular and less brooding figure than how he's often played, even though in the end he proves as brittle and as defeated as Diana Kent's increasingly wraith-like Mary. As James Jr and Edmund, Adam Best and Timothy N. Evers respectively capture the various shades of pathetic self-loathing in the sons' inability to neither live up to their old man's expectations nor break away from them in a family affair to die for.
The Herald, January 24th 2014