The Theatreguide.London Review
O'Neill's late masterpieces were such towering achievements that it has
become critical orthodoxy to dismiss the first half of his career as
juvenilia or unplayable dead-end experiments.
now here comes
a sterling revival of his first full-length play (from 1920), to prove
that all his dramatic and tragic powers were there from the start,
along with a poetic eloquence we don't normally associate with O'Neill.
is the story of two brothers raised on a New England farm. Robert is a
poet and dreamer who longs to go to sea to discover the world beyond
his horizon, while Andrew is happy and skilled as a farmer. But when
the girl they both love chooses Robert, it is Andrew who generously
passes, and we
watch as Robert proves unsuited to be a farmer and he and his wife sink
into poverty and bitterness. Meanwhile the unimaginative Andrew sails
the world and sees none of it, becomes prosperous as a merchant but
loses his sense of roots and identity.
schematic, but O'Neill dresses it in solidly realistic setting and
characterisations that carry all the play's tragic weight while never
losing a sense of everyday possibility. In effect, O'Neill creates the
Tragedy Of The Common Man almost three decades before Arthur Miller
claimed to invent it.
visiting from the Royal and Derngate Northampton, director Laurie
Sansom treats the play with the respect and honour it deserves, and
brings out all of its power, as well as guiding his cast to superb
Malarkey begins as the young man expressing his dreams in honest crude
poetry and then progressively shrinks into himself as the small world
of the declining farm closes in on him. Michael Thomson has a quieter
role as Andrew, but quickly establishes a sense of salt-of-the-earth
honour and solidity, so that the tiniest cracks later in the play will
Liz White takes her character from innocent and impulsive youth to nagging harpy and then beyond, to hopeless resignation; and as an older generation Jacqueline King, James Jordan and Joanna Bacon skilfully contribute to the sense of reality within which the tragedy is played out.
Beyond The Horizon is not flashy, but it may well be the best written,
best performed and most moving drama in London.
And a footnote: the same company is also performing in Tennessee Williams' early play Spring Storm, giving us an experience the National Theatre itself has deprived us of for too long - the pleasure of seeing the same actors in complementary or contrasting roles on consecutive evenings.
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Beyond the Horizon - Natrional Theatre 2010