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Jessica Regan interview - 'Richard Eyre's rehearsals are really special places'
Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey Into Night opens in the West End this week, with Richard Eyre bringing his production to Wyndham's Theatre from an earlier run at Bristol Old Vic. With him, he brings the mighty Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons as the heads of the Tyrone family, and Jessica Regan as the household’s maid Cathleen.
We spoke to Regan about discovering the role of Cathleen, earning about the role form a Lesely Manville newspaper interview, and working with two acting greats.
This production has started up in Bristol in a couple of years ago, is the rehearsal process just a case of refreshing your memory?
No, we’ve totally re-worked it. One of the reasons I wanted to do it again was, maybe another director would restage it. But with Richard, we don’t just recreate what we did two years ago, we have to find it again. Create these relationships again. It’s very much a production that’s moved on from where it was two years ago.
Are there differences someone who saw the Bristol production would notice?
I don’t think it’s something that you’d be able to point out specifically, I think it’s an overall feeling of cohesion. Because we’ve spent more time together, our relationships are inevitably deeper. We’ve found different beats and moments, and it feels richer on stage.
Were you very familiar with the play before you were cast?
I had a vague memory of it. It’s one of those canon plays, one of those plays that everyone knows.
I’ve worked with Richard before on a show called Liola, and I was reading the newspaper one day and there was in interview with Lesley Manville and she talked about doing the play with Richard. I seemed to remember there being an Irish maid in the play, so I bought a copy and thought the part that I play was really funny. I emailed Richard and asked him for an audition, and he sent me a response to say “of course, I’ll keep you in mind”. A couple of weeks later my agent told me I’d been offered the part, which was lovely. He hadn’t seen me for a couple of years, but thought “oh yeah, Jess is funny, she’ll do it”.
You must enjoy working with Richard, then?
I did a workshop with him and I felt like I learnt more from three days with him than in some jobs I’ve done for weeks. I auditioned for a role in the play we workshopped and got the part in Liola. His rehearsals are really special places, you can tell how much he loves his work. He just seems to mine joy and revelation from the experience. I’ve worked with him three times in five years and I pinch myself every time. It’s also been a privilege to watch him work with Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.
What’s it been like in the room with Jeremy and Lesley?
It’s been better this time round, I was quite intimidated last time round. But that’s on me, I grew up watching them in films, but its lovely now. There’s none of that formality and distance I brought to the table last time. Because it went so well in Bristol, and I’ve worked a lot since then, it built up my confidence a lot. I feel like more of a peer and a colleague this time round, rather than just looking on in awe.
Is that a feeling you get often during jobs?
I think actors feel it in all different forms. It doesn’t have to be a household name or national treasure. I remember working with Michelle Terry on Henry V, who is on her way to becoming a national treasure with her upcoming work at the Globe. She’s an enormously generous actor, and her humility and grace just made me think that she was someone to aspire to be in every room.
You character, Cathleen, breaks up the tension of the play and provides a bit of comic relief in a pretty dark household. What’s it like bringing that dynamic to the piece?
It’s such a gift. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. You do funny lines in rehearsals over and over again and they stop getting laughs, understandably. Everyone’s seen it before. But when an audience laughs you think, “oh, this is so lovely”. Cathleen is a bit of a treat for the audience. It’s a long one, but she provides a break where they can relax a bit. She’s like a squeeze of lime over proceedings.
As the title eludes to, it’s a long play, clocking in at three and a half hours. Is that quite demanding?
I cannot complain. I don’t appear in the last forty minutes or the first half hour. I think it’s a desperately long play for the Tyrone family. It’s an absolute marathon, but I sit in and watch the rehearsals, and the work I’m seeing done, I can’t believe what they’re achieving. I’m so excited for people to see this.
Lesley Manville plays Mary, a morphine addict, in the play. Would you ever like to have a crack at playing that character in the future?
Yes, definitely. It would be a long way off but I think any actress who’d like a crack at Nora in A Doll’s House would like a crack at Mary. But I don’t see anybody doing it better than Lesley.
Long Days Journey Into Night Tickets are available now.
Photo by Hugo Glendinning