Reviews Roundup: Long Day’s Journey Into Night 3.5★


Brian Cox & Patricia Clarkson in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Photo: Johan Persson

Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the great American plays of the twentieth century, some say the greatest. The latest West end production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, brings together Succession star Brian Cox as the paterfamilias James Tyrone, and Patricia Clarkson as his morphine-addicted wife Mary. It is she, even more than he, who got the critics excited. This is a long play, as most of the reviews reminded us. ‘For three and a half hours, the four members of the Tyrone family – a morphine addict, two alcoholics and a consumptive – shout and mope and recriminate’ (to quote The Independent).  The supporting cast of Laurie KynastonDaryl McCormack and Louisa Harland (recently seen in Ulster American) were all well received.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) praised both stars. About Brian Cox he said: ‘this verbose, confined epic calls for vocal clout and physical heft. Which he has.’ Then: ‘the terrific American actress Patricia Clarkson as the stricken matriarch generates an increasingly hypnotic force of unstable energy.’ The play is, he said, ‘a heart-rending mirror of forsaken souls in which we may all glimpse our own familial griefs.’ He ended with one word: ‘Recommended.’

Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (4★) had  this to say about the duo: ‘Cox, all bark and ferocity, plays up the character’s fury, his sense of betrayal, his anger at the world and himself’ and ‘In Patricia Clarkson’s eagle-sharp interpretation, Mary (is) a dominant force, whose evasions, untruths and occasional moments of absolute knowledge prevent her family from confronting their own demons.’ She was impressed by ‘The clarity and directness of Herrin’s production and the way that the cast both speak and listen with absolute intent brings it to vivid life once more.’

For Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) ‘Cox is magnetic as Tyrone, volcanic one moment, maudlin the next. He’s well-matched by Clarkson whose prim body language and sly evasions betray the wariness of the secret addict.’ The rest of the cast hold their own: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s production is full of pathos and ruined grandeur, with superb performances all round.’ He noted ‘Kynaston…brings great delicacy and watchfulness to Edmund: he also resembles Clarkson in profile. McCormack…brings a malign, defeated charisma to Jamie. Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland turns the caricatured Oirish servant Kathleen into a gust of light relief.’ He had praise too for the look of the production: ‘Designer Lizzie Clachan emphasises the oppressive, inescapable nature of their tragedy with a cramped box of a set.’

Louise Penn at Broadway World (4★) didn’t find it too long: ‘not a second is wasted in Jeremy Herrin’s fine production, which features a delicate showcase of addiction, longing, and despair from Patricia Clarkson.’ She also thought Brian Cox gave ‘a mesmerising performance’. She shared with other critics an admiration for the way ‘Lizzie Clachan’s set and costumes capture the sense of a prosperous past while providing muted hues which fit well with Jack Knowles’s lighting.’ She clearly loved the play: ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the mirror into which we can see our souls.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (4★) thought it was ‘faultlessly performed’, but reserved her highest praise for the two stars:  ‘A serene smile battling with tiny nervous gestures, her eyes increasingly somnolent and vague as the drug kicks in, Clarkson is shattering. Cox’s James combines an ox-like bulk and power with the silver-haired, self-conscious elegance of an old stager.’ She concluded: ‘It’s a demanding experience, which Herrin allows to accumulate its force slowly, but the acting here is dauntless: a monumental testament to domestic agony.’ Matt Wolf at The Arts Desk (4★) centred his review around Patricia Clarkson: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s slow-aborning if properly sorrowful production confirms a sense confirmed by experience that this text really does belong to Mary’. (‘Aborning’ is an American word for being born.)

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★) thought not only was it long but also didn’t half the impact it should: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s production is careful, slowly gathering – and three-and-a-half hours long. The opening scenes are muted, not so much anguished as anxious.’ She continued, ‘Solo confessions are the motor of the play but they gain in intensity with a greater sense of family…than there is here. The wounds look grave, not – as they should – fatal.’ However, she was impressed by ‘the sheer force of writing and of acting’.

Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) described how ‘Herrin turns this into a showcase for Big Acting, with no distractions.  The stripped-back approach is really exposing, and there are moments when it doesn’t bear up to the scrutiny.’  Even though he found ‘some scenes in the second half feel really bum-numbingly long,’ the play is, he said, ‘very impressive, often mesmerising and – when it hits right – really profoundly moving.’ About Patricia Clarkson, he said she ‘has an extraordinary ability to flitter in and out of reality, sometimes just with her eyes.’

For Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (3★), while ‘Cox is, as always, thrilling to watch’…’it is Patricia Clarkson…who steals the show…hers feels like a true, infuriating, compassionate portrait of an addict.’  She was not entirely won over by O’Neill’s play: ‘Some scenes glitter with dark energy, and are truly tragic. Others feel protracted, the play’s old-fashioned exposition exposed, and the over-used device of characters narrating memories feeling like lengthy confessions.’

While all the critics loved Patricia Clarkson, some were less sure about Brian Cox. Fiona Mountford in inews (3★) said: ‘Clarkson is magnificent, giving the performance of the evening, shaping Mary into a figure of almost ethereal radiance, present but also absent’ but ‘Cox struggles to shift register sufficiently and convinces us a little less of the weight of the wounds he bears, especially in comparison to Clarkson’s deep mining of truth.’ She found ‘The almost three-and-a-half hours of Jeremy Herrin’s production do weigh heavily.’ Andrezej Lukowski in Time Out (3★), while praising ‘a superlative turn from …Patricia Clarkson’, opined, ‘Cox doesn’t quite nail the role of James Tyrone’. He also had reservations about the direction: ‘mostly this is a very straight production… It’s a daunting play, yes, but it shouldn’t be a museum piece.’

Least convinced was Clive Davis in  The Times  (2★): ‘O’Neill grinds us into submission with dialogue which turns in achingly slow circles,‘ he said. ‘Cox is always watchable,’ he admitted, ‘but he’s still not able to prevent long-winded confrontations and confessions from slipping into melodrama.’ He didn’t like the production either: ‘Herrin’s prosaic approach doesn’t supply much in the way of light and shade. Lizzie Clachan’s austere set design offers little to please the eye, either.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night can be seen at Wyndham’s Theatre until 8 June 2024. Buy tickets directly from

Average critic rating (out of 5) 3.4★

Value rating  23 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60. This rating is usually based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

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