WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHERE: Wyndhams Theatre
WHEN: 10/3 runs to 7/4/18
Last Sunday Lesley Manville was pipped to a Best Actress Oscar for her role as a domineering sister to Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread and a day later she was shortlisted for the Oliviers for her role in this.
- Read on for reasons including which Olivier Award-nominated actress was in the audience for this
Manville plays Mary Tyrone, a wife and mother, who we first see fussing about her hair at the heart of a loving family, complaining about the penny-pinching of her failed luvvie actor husband (Jeremy Irons, wringing every last ounce of humour from a role, most memorably where he notices his whisky has been watered down or instigates the turning on of all the lights when his tightfistedness is exposed).
Manville is a recovering morphine addict and her family treads on eggshells around her as it becomes clear that she is using again. Her performance is a masterclass of affection for those around her yet constantly saying the most inappropriate thing, often betraying how her behaviour has affected her sons.
We’d not seen Matthew Beard (sensitive son Edmund, who is about to be diagnosed with something life-threatening) and Rory Keenan (vain and lazy actor son James Junior) in much before but here they round out the cast perfectly as a family which knows exactly how to pick at the emotional scabs that each other bear.
Help Cathleen is played by Jessica Regan and she also brings much-needed humour to her role.
Author Eugene O’Neill famously declared that this piece should not be performed until 25 years after his death but his widow, realising what an emotionally honest masterpiece it was, put it onstage within three.
What’s clever about Richard Eyre’s direction is that Manville’s show-stealing dominates even when we can only hear her knocking about upstairs because the glass summerhouse in which the family sits means we keep thinking we can catch reflections of her even when she is offstage.
Last year we gave our Best Actress monsta to Imelda Staunton for her terrific ball-breaking in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and Manville’s turn is certainly the equal of it.
We loved both other nominees Laura Donnelly in The Ferryman (our Best New Play of 2017) and Audra McDonald (a heartbreaking Lady Day at this very theatre) but think it’s Manville versus Staunton.
Perhaps it’s a good omen but fellow Olivier nominee Gemma Arterton is sitting in front of us very much enjoying a five-star revival and an acting masterclass.