National Theatre, London
Until September 1.
LONGING, loss and lust loom hilariously large in an impressive revival of Irish-American playwright Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre this month.
The notoriously weighty piece has been shortened to a mere three hours and 15 minutes and brought to comedic new heights in London’s Southbank under the direction of Simon Godwin.
And with a powerful cast, flawless attention to timing and a superb set to boot, the audience is seamlessly offered the world of damaged protagonist Nina Leeds in the soliloquy heavy classic, set in 1940s America.
But the stars of this show are easily Charles Edwards and Anne-Marie Duff. The latter, in the many-faced role of Nina, proves herself a chameleon and master of her art.
The Irish actor embodies O’Neill’s simultaneously strong, vulnerable and devious protagonist as if she has played her all her life – complete with perfect American accent, wildly searching eyes and the unrequited emotions for a long lost love that course through her performance.
But for Duff’s dramatic quasi-heroine, there is an alpha male, of sorts, who proves himself even more pivotal to the enjoyment of Godwin’s production.
In the role of harmless Charlie Marsden, Edwards lifts this play to levels anew, with impeccable comic timing proving him the character most reviled, revered and depended on by the characters and audience alike.
And, as the loyal puppy waiting by Nina’s side as her life twists and turns following the death of her first love, Charlie is thankfully never far from the action of O’Neill’s 1923 black comedy.
He is liberated of course by the close of her tale, when, with his hair fully greyed, ‘good old Charlie’ finds his salvation, or reward, or punishment, depending on your point of view.
Either way, he proves himself the most enjoyable element of the lengthy production – with his soliloquys in particular offering an excruciatingly funny insight into the self-flagellation he has endured for so long while his love entertained an army of men.
Ultimately, with such quality on stage – both in timber and talent – O’Neill’s perfectly pitched dry humour, placed in the darkest of human situations, shows the National at its best.
And at 180-minutes running time this is more than an interlude but well worth a trip.
So head to the Southbank and catch an American classic with a modern twist from some of the best performers – both on and off the stage – currently commandeering London’s theatre district.
Strange Interlude runs at the National Theatre until September 1.