The great American playwright Eugene O’Neill is not usually associated with romantic comedies but Ah Wilderness is just that, a wonderfully light hearted and beautifully simple story of love, loss and a young boy’s coming of age. Ah Wilderness tends to be known as O’Neill’s prelude to his more famous work “A Long Day’s Journey into Night”, both are thought to reflect his own life. The title “Ah Wilderness” comes from a verse by the poet Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and is Richard’s, the main protagonist’s, favourite poem:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The play is set in Connecticut and follows events in the Miller family home over two days.
Richard’s mother Essie is worried. She is worried about Richard, who is reading sensationalist literature by the likes of Swinburne and Wilde. Richard, played by rising star George MacKay, is headstrong, rebellious, idealistic and in love. It is 4th July 1906, he is about to turn 17 and the family are celebrating Independence Day. Emotions are running high in the Miller family home and the play looks at the dynamics and tensions between the different family members, exploring their intertwining stories over the two days.
As the events of the 4th of July celebrations sweep the Miller family along, their stories unfold. Their personal strengths and fragilities are woven cleverly into the play to form its very fabric. One can’t help admiring the long term bond of love and commitment between Essie, the hardworking and loyal wife, and her husband Nat, the successful newspaper man; one sees the disappointment of the lost love that hangs in the air between Lily, Nat’s spinster sister and Sid, Essie’s drunken brother; and one feels dizzy with the head spinning emotional turmoil of Richard, as he vacillates between childhood and manhood, wrestling with rebellion, the injustices of the world, love and lust, right and wrong.
What makes the play so enjoyable is the characters. It is easy to sympathise with them. The everydayness of their situations is so familiar. The problems, joys and worries they face in their relationships and interactions are universal and are as relevant today as they were in the 1900’s when the play was written.
This American literary staple is rarely seen in UK theatres but now the Young Vic has brought it to life in the London. It is a wonderfully heart warming play, complete with moonlit beaches, firecrackers, booze and a powerfully dark undertow.
Ah Wilderness is currently showing at The Young Vic Theatre in London until 23rd May 2015. For more information and tickets, click here: http://www.youngvic.org/