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Strange Interlude review at Lyttelton National Theatre London

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude,” Groucho Marx said in Animal Crackers, made in 1930, two years after Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude premiered on Broadway and won its playwright his third Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But the play is indeed a strange, audacious beast that has left a far wider legacy than providing the basis for a comic punchline.

It stretches all the way to Peter Nichols’ Passion Play, currently being revived in the West End, where the lead couple each have an alter ego to articulate their inner thoughts. Here, however, O’Neill has the characters constantly stepping out of their scenes themselves to offer direct address expressions to the audience of what they’re thinking.

The odd blend of naturalism and the play’s poetic expression of the muddle of life and our pursuit of happiness within it is keenly articulated by director Simon Godwin, who keeps the play’s rippling textures buoyant throughout.

It is hardly ever done anymore, partly due to its baggy length that can take the running time up to five hours (but here has been judiciously pared back). It’s a rich, heady stew of a play that follows the life and relationships of Nina Leeds who, left bereaved by the the loss of her fiance in the First World War, struggles to make sense of her conflicting needs, desires and sense of duty with the men that come after.

These include the doctor who treats her for her breakdown, who becomes her lover, a businessman who becomes her husband, and a devoted admirer who longs to have her for himself. This production is stunningly propelled by a performance of steely magnificence from Anne-Marie Duff as Nina, with Darren Pettie, Jason Watkins and Charles Edwards in superb support as the men in her life, with Wilf Scolding as the fourth that she parents with a naked, damaging need.

Production Information

Lyttelton, National Theatre, London, May 28-August 12

Eugene O’Neill
Simon Godwin
National Theatre
Cast includes
Anne-Marie Duff, Charles Edwards, Darren Pettie, Jason Watkins, Wilf Scolding, Patrick Drury, Emily Plumtree
Running time
3hrs 15mins

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