Betts has rewritten Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, set
in contemporary England.
is not as
great a writer as O'Neill, and so The Company Man is not anywhere near
as great a play, but its vision that people are who they are all their
lives and can't change even when they want to, and that love does not
at all conquer all, is frequently very moving.
gathers her somewhat estranged family for a reunion, only to discover
that her weak and feckless son is still weak and irresponsible, the
daughter who was always somehow ignored has become an identityless and
self-sacrificing nonentity, her cold and self-centred husband is still
blind to anything but his own ego, and she herself never really lived
because she was too busy playing the role of wife and mother.
and flashbacks show us how everyone got where they are and the extent
to which they always were that way, and how love not only couldn't help
but sometimes actively hurt.
raised by a
cold and brutal father, the father here became his duplicate, an added
level of intellectuality merely giving him another arena in which to be
a bully, monopolising every conversation with imperious lectures. The
boy who was his mother's darling because she sensed his weakness never
had to develop a backbone, and the girl who was judged too strong to
need loving became her mother's carer as inevitably as the spinster
daughter in an Irish family.
moment, or more than one, in which they might have seen the truth about
themselves and altered their fates, and - as in O'Neill - everyone
looked into that moment and then went on being who they were.
That's a dark vision and, as I've indicated, it has been expressed much more powerfully elsewhere. But it's a vision worth sharing and Betts does offer some new angles from which to observe it, noting for example that we are now two generations away from those who lived through the Second World War, but that their traumas helped shape their children and now their grandchildren.
direction carves three separate spaces out of the Orange Tree's small
in-the-round stage, allowing two or three scenes to be played
simultaneously without confusion (though I think I spotted a couple of
moments when the actors forgot where the invisible doors were supposed
to be), and guides his actors to presenting the characters with all
their flaws and crimes against each other while still not losing our
mother and Bruce Alexander as father stand out, she by letting us see
her character gradually sensing some truths about herself and the
others, and he with a character who remains almost endearingly
The play goes soft and soppy at the very end in a way O'Neill would never have allowed himself, as if Betts needed to reassure us things aren't really as bad as the body of the play implied, and I think it would have been a much stronger play if he had held his nerve.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
Review - The Company Man - Orange Tree 2010