With grubby, masculine class revolution at its core, The Hairy Ape, Matthew Warchus' second show as Old Vic artistic director, couldn't be further from the lavish revival of High Society with which predecessor Kevin Spacey finished his reign.
Bertie Carvel is forceful and full-on as Yank, the leader of the pack. But when spoilt heiress Miss Douglas insists on coming down to the stokehold to see how to other half live, she is so horrified she cries "Don't touch me, you ape! You hairy ape!", which is the catalyst for all that follows— Yank's realisation that he is being kept at the bottom of the world by all the people at the top. He travels to New York to seek revenge on all the upper-class.
Despite a compelling story, the play is rarely revived. Playwright Eugene O'Neill stressed that he did not want the play to be performed naturalistically but with a sense of claustrophobia and the noise and heat of a stokehold. Director Richard Jones extends the abstraction with cartoonish stylisation and hallucinatory shifts and visions.
The effect is arresting but not always the most enjoyable viewing experience. Taut choreography gives tension to the crowd scenes and a series of acid yellow steel containers become increasingly like cages. It is not the most subtle metaphor for the class frustration. Throw in masks and all-over-the-place accents and the production is garish and crude. Instead of tenderness and humanity, there is colour, sound, aggression. Lights blare out from the stage and make the audience squint in shock. The overall effect is divisive; some will find it exhilirarting; others will be irritated.
|REVIEW: The Hairy Ape, The Old Vic
|The Old Vic, The Cut, London, SE1 8NB | MAP
17 Oct 15 – 21 Nov 15, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|£12 - £55
|Click here to book via the Old Vic Theatre