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Posts Tagged ‘Timothy West’

This is the play that started my obsession with the work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, more than thirty years ago in a Jonathan Miller production with Jack Lemon as James Tyrone and Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone Jnr. I was the same age as James Jnr. Now I’m the same age as James Snr. Subsequent productions had Timothy West and David Suchet as James Snr. The 2000 West End production had Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone, with Olivia Coleman as the Irish maid. Now its the turn of Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

It’s O’Neill’s most biographical play, which he insisted wasn’t published until 25 years after his death, and never staged, but his widow didn’t honour this wish. It’s a long play, 3.5 hours in this Richard Eyre production, part of the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary programme. It takes place over one day and night in one room in the Tyrone home. James is a Shakespearean actor, drinks a lot and is a bit of a bully. His wife became addicted to morphine during her recent illness. Youngest son Edmund is seriously ill. His elder brother has followed his father into acting, more by default than anything else. The only other character is Cathleen, the Irish maid, whose scenes bring some light relief to what is otherwise a rather depressing piece.

Rob Howell’s impressionistic design is beautiful, also lightening the gloom of the play. The performances were a touch tentative at first, but became more natural as the play unfolded. Jeremy Irons’ James is an appropriately charismatic presence as James. The wonderful Lesley Manville navigates Mary’s decline delicately, with carefully controlled emotionality. Rory Keenan plays a spiky James Jnr, under the influence of alcohol most of the time, and Matthew Beard a fragile Edmund, both excellent. I very much liked Jessica Regan’s cameo as Cathleen.

This is a high quality revival and its good to see another Bristol Old Vic production in the West End, but it didn’t engage me emotionally or maintain my attention as it should, probably more to do with me and the night I went. Don’t let me put you off.

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I’m finding it hard to believe it’s only 8 years since I saw the original production of Caryl Churchill’s play about cloning at the Royal Court. I remember the starry casting of  Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig and the West End transfer being scuppered by their refusal to move with it.  I remember finding it intriguing, but confusing and ultimately an unsatisfying 50 minutes. So why did I go and see it again?

Well, because it’s at a lovely intimate theatre – the Menier Chocolate Factory (though on Friday suffering from distracting extraneous noise of a band rehearsing somewhere) – and father and son Timothy West and Sam West play the father and sonS.

It must have been ahead of its time in 2002 because the debate about cloning in the subsequent 8 years make it now seem more timely. I’m not sure the father and son casting actually added anything and I still found it intriguing, though a little less confusing, but  just as unsatisfying.

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