Two of the online reviews of the 2012 production of this classic at the Apollo Theatre, London – one on ‘West End Whingers’, and another on ‘What’s on Stage’- were enthusiastic about its pace. I replied to both of those, and then was delighted to find a less laudatory review on ‘londonist.com’.
This is my reply to them:
How gratifying to read your less than euphoric review! I do so agree with the points you make, and to focus on one more aspect, some of the rave reviews you mention at the end, praise the production, among other things, for its pace.. Ay, ay ay!
Did no one else feel that the lines were all delivered far too fast? Or is it only in my life experience that human beings need time to digest the previous speaker’s words before even beginning to compose a response? The actors know the script inside out, of course; they know what’s coming next, long before it’s been said, but people in real life don’t, and neither does an audience in the theatre. They need to hear, and absorb what they hear.
I do recognise that O’Neil’s characters in this claustrophobic roundabout will often find themselves running in well worn tracks, but it was as if the director had said: ‘Look, guys, this play is inordinately long and repetitive. If we don’t give it some lick, they’ll all fall asleep!’ I beg to differ. Words spoken thoughtfully can grab and hold the attention, where those delivered at breakneck speed cannot.
Interestingly, the video excerpt included on your site moves at a far more measured rate than the stage version I saw in its final week; perhaps the problem was that the cast had all speeded up as the production went along…
I’m not hard of hearing, but thank heaven for the side-titles, without which (and I knew the play), I’d have lost most of the dialogue completely, particularly whenever Laurie Metcalf was talking. Her physical performance may have been stunning, but where was the vocal projection? I kept wanting to say ‘Speak up!!!’
No, I don’t want to pay London theatre prices for the privilege of trying to read short snatches of text at the side of the proscenium, with only time for occasional glances at the stage itself. Directors, please remember your audience. Well over half of them are sitting a hell of a way back from the stage, sometimes with very awkward sightlines, and they deserve to hear what they’ve come to see!