Theatre: A shatteringly good journey into night

Eugene O’Neill is America’s greatest playwright and Long Day’s Journey into Night, at Wyndham’s Theatre, is his greatest play, an act of exorcism, written in tears and blood, and so autobiographical that he didn’t want it published until 25 years after his death. It is, perhaps, the most painful and acrimonious of all 20th-century dramas. Written with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for his family, O’Neill didn’t ever want it staged. Fortunately, his wishes were ignored.

Thirty-six years of marriage is concertinaed into one long day. The Tyrone family cannot forget and they cannot forgive. They blame each other for what they are: miser, morphine-addict, waster and consumptive. The bitterness is in every word they utter. The knife is turned in the same wound over and over again. The play’s great weakness – its garrulousness, its inordinate length and its endless repetitions – is paradoxically its greatest strength. Richard Eyre directs an excellent cast: Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville (superb), Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan.

Christopher Wheeldon has turned Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale into a ballet at the Royal Opera House. The pastoral scenes in the second act, with dancing shepherds and their lasses, are perfect for the divertissements a classical ballet audience expects. Bob Crowley has designed a beautiful tree. The dancing is exuberant; the costumes are colourful. Sarah Lamb as Perdita and Vadim Muntagirov as Florizel are a tender kissing couple. It is all so bright and jolly, a huge contrast to what has gone before.

The story begins in sombre mood. King Leontes (a paranoid, contorted Ryoichi Hirano), suddenly and quite irrationally believes his wife, Hermione (an elegant, serene Lauren Cuthbertson), has committed adultery with his best friend, Polixenes (Matthew Ball) and become pregnant by him. His paranoia, second only to Othello’s, drives him to insanity, brilliantly caught in the writhing choreography and Joby Talbot’s dramatic music, a perfect equivalent for Shakespeare’s tortured and sometimes unintelligible verse.

Sarah Burgess in Dry Powder at Hampstead Theatre takes a barbed look at late capitalism and corporate social responsibility. The finance is high and the morality is low. Initially, I had difficulty with the financial jargon, but, surprisingly, found it didn’t matter and was totally held by the acting and the interplay between the actors. Tom Riley is stylish. The production is smart and business-like.

The Japanese were out in force at the Barbican Theatre to see director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s comic-book spectacle Pluto, which takes its inspiration from Osamu Tezuka, the Japanese manga artist. The story about robots and humans coexisting is uninvolving but the coordination between actors, dancers, scenery and graphics – projected on seven panels which are constantly being moved into different shapes – is very impressive.

Alan Ayckbourn admits The Divide at The Old Vic is not a play. “It’s a strange sort of piece,” he says “… a narrative for voices”, set in a dystopian future when heterosexual marriages are forbidden and children are produced by artificial insemination alone. Erin Doherty does a remarkable job holding Annabel Bolton’s production together. But even when cut from six hours to three hours and 50 minutes, it is still far too long and loses the audience in the second half.