Of flesh and blood


Earlier this year, actor/director Bradley Cooper made headlines when he admitted on a podcast, in a moment of (perhaps reckless) honesty, that he struggled to connect with his newborn daughter – people were appalled, they sneered at him, suggested that these things were better left unspoken, or that he was in some way stealing the spotlight from women affected by postpartum depression. The discomfort that so many people were left with proved how important the question was: what is the correct way to talk about this? Is there one? Is bringing up the issue in itself a form of misogyny?

The Cord (Bush Theatre) is writer-director Bijan Sheibani’s new play that explores this taboo subject; new parents Ash and Anya (Irfan Shamji and Eileen O’Higgins, respectively) wade through a miasma of sleepless nights and family emergencies – they argue over and over, and throughout Ash feels a sense of detachment from his newborn son – his ‘heir’ as he tellingly calls him at one point. Clouding the issue is his relationship with his mum, Jane (Lucy Black) who it is implied struggled to connect with him in the same way that he now does – there’s a resentment in the way he speaks to her (and about her) that never quite reaches boiling point, while she carries herself with a back pain which you’re never sure is psychosomatic or physical, but is emblematic of the decades of guilt she has felt for Ash’s early months. This is a thoughtful, oftentimes moving piece that feels very personal, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I like to think that my feminism is robust enough that an 80 minute production about (what is apparently) a completely verboten subject isn’t in danger of setting The Cause back any.

Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Wyndhams Theatre) takes place on a single day in the Connecticut seaside home of the Tyrone family. It’s the summer of 1812 and this reflective, self-analytical clan are trying to work through the breakdown in family relationships. The shreds of his own family torment drove O’Neill to put pen to paper; his mother was an opiate addict with all the emotional detritus attached, causing regret, sorrow and simmering resentment. Jeremy Herrin’s moving production is long (3 hours), sometimes languorous, yet often intense and engrossing with an ending that captures a portrait of abject sadness. Adding to the intensity is Lizzie Clachan’s claustrophobic wooden set, a cabin for pain, heartache and soul searching. Sure enough as day turns to night and alcohol loosens the tongue the implosions happen. O’Neill’s writing slowly draws you in, exposing the harsh realities that lie beneath. Family therapy by the sea.

It could have been a heavy and burdensome watch but the cast carve out characterisations that take you on this journey with great skill and empathy. Brian Cox plays James, a patriarch full of contradictions, a man riven by guilt as both husband and father, his miserliness being at the root of many of their problems. Laurie Kynaston’s portrayal of gentle son Edmund is that of a child damaged yet resilient with his soft core exposing his unrelenting fears of coming to terms with serious illness. Conversely James Junior takes on the role of martyr, yet able to switch in an instant to finger pointing and Daryl McCormack joins up all those dots with a scorchingly impressive depiction. Patricia Clarkson’s Mary, as good a performance as you are likely to see in the West End right now, represents a microcosm of all that has torn the family apart. She is an archetypal addict, displaying behaviours that come with the territory. Sometimes forlorn yet also carefully manipulative, she will eventually be forced to submit to the painful truth within.

Ultimately however, despite O’Neill’s piercingly, analytical writing, it is the unspoken that has the greatest impact. Those moments of silence, when the family are caught deep in thought, trying to manage their emotions and then that final image of Mary alone with the eyes of the three men fixed on her. Fragile yet loving. A picture really does paint a thousand words.

The Cord – www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Long Day’s Journey Into Night – www.longdaysjourneylondon.com


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