Published in the Guardian Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh Three stars
IT begins with a burst of summer sunlight spilling across the bleached wood, cotton fabrics and pastel shades of Janet Bird's airy set. The scene is indistinguishable from a million wholesome visions of all-American, middle-class life.
Paul Shelley, as the patriarch James Tyrone, stands tall with his healthy head of hair and rugged matinee-idol looks, his desire undiminished for his wife, Mary (Diana Kent), also in cheery good humour. Likewise, their grownup sons are full of boisterous bonhomie. Adam Best's Jamie is charming and opinionated, the polar opposite of his neurotic Raskolnikov in the recent Crime and Punishment. Even Timothy N Evers as the consumptive Edmund shrugs off his illness for the sake of the happy domestic picture.
By the end of Eugene O'Neill's posthumous classic – which had its UK premiere at the Lyceum in 1958 – this idyllic portrait has been exposed for the sham it is. Now illuminated by a solitary lightbulb, the family have fractured into a nightmare of poisonous recrimination.
James wishes he were the man he once was, Mary the woman she could have been and Edmund the poet he could yet be, while Jamie wishes he were Edmund. Deranged by whiskey and morphine, they blame their failings on each other in a bitter four-way battle restrained only by a residual sense of family loyalty.
Tony Cownie's production springs no surprises, but plays it fast and straight. In the early part, Kent makes too little distinction between the competing sides of Mary's personality, but her performance builds in emotional power as the drug intake rises. Newcomer Evers captures Edmund's world-weary resignation, while giving as good as he gets from the drunken attacks of Jamie and their father. Their sparring has an awful mesmeric energy, and at the end there is one of those glorious silences when it seems impolite to clap.