At a time when London’s commercial sector has all but abandoned the serious play and so many of the more intimate theatres that once would have housed them are permanently blocked off by long-runners like Stomp, The Woman in Black, Chicago and Thriller Live, Nimax - owner of the houses lost to the latter two - is paying back at its showcase Shaftesbury Avenue address by booking a rotating round of quality shows.
Trevor White (Jamie Tyrone), David Suchet (James Tyrone) and Kyle Soller (Edmund Tyrone) in Long Dayâ€™s Journey into Night at the Apollo, London Photo: Johan Persson
After a West End run for Bath’s production of The Madness of George III, and before the return of Mark Rylance to the venue where he previously starred in two runs of Jerusalem, to appear next as Richard III and in Twelfth Night, Nimax co-owners Nica Burns and Max Weizenhoffer are now among a producing consortium offering the kind of smartly-packaged, yet rigorously served, production of a great classic that would not be out of place somewhere like the Almeida, Donmar or National.
That’s high praise indeed, but it also shows precisely what the West End is up against - how does it rise to the challenge of producing this kind of work without subsidy or a ready-made audience to receive it?
The answer, here at least, is to let the quality speak for itself, and the integrity of the endeavour shine through. Eugene O’Neill’s piercingly autobiographical play about the unravelling of the family of a travelling actor and property speculator captures a terrible day in their lives as the matriarch fights another losing battle with morphine addiction and the younger son faces a diagnosis of consumption.
Anthony Page’s production makes the bold choice of allowing the play to simmer rather than rage, and although it is a slow-burn approach, it pays rich dramatic dividends in the richly detailed and layered texturing of the performances behind it. David Suchet’s bluster and devastating frugality that condemns his character James Tyrone’s family to cheap instead of good medical attention has its origins in Tyrone’s own past, which makes it understandable, if not forgivable.
Laurie Metcalf does an even finer, richer and deeper job of excavating the layers of pain that lead her character to seek refuge in drugs - she wears her feelings on the outside. And as their variously damaged sons, Kyle Soller and Trevor White magnificently register the legacies both have been left with.
Careful attention has been paid to establishing the right forbidding, foreboding atmosphere in Lez Brotherston’s wood-panelled set, with rolling fog swirling outside constantly in Mark Henderson’s moody lighting. There is also telling music and sound from Larry Blank and Gareth Owen respectively.