The Hairy Ape, Old Vic, London, review: Over-concentrated on stylised physicality, masks, and garish sets

The emotions that the play's Expressionism is supposed to be heightening get shorter shrift

Paul Taylor
Monday 02 November 2015 16:05
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Eugene O'Neill's  'The Hairy Ape' is about Yank, a stoker on a transatlantic liner
Eugene O'Neill's 'The Hairy Ape' is about Yank, a stoker on a transatlantic liner

As the second piece in Matthew Warchus's new regime at the Old Vic, Richard Jones has staged The Hairy Ape, Eugene O'Neill's 1922 Expressionist play about Yank, a stoker on a transatlantic liner. This protagonist imagines that he is in the engine room of the universe until a deranging encounter with the proprietor's white dressed daughter makes him realise how he is perceived and sends him on a downward spiral of painful self-discovery.

Bertie Carvel (Yank) in 'The Hairy Ape'

The production has been highly praised in some quarters but came across to me as external and over-concentrated on stylised physicality, masks, and garish sets (the designer-mucky stokers are pitched from side to side of a cramping lime-green container). The emotions that the Expressionism is supposed to be heightening get shorter shrift. The dialogue is not always intelligible; the noisy sound design sometimes leaves you unable to think. Bertie Carvel's accent comes across as an allusion to Marlon Brando instead of believable speech and he gives such a bravura display of swinging atheliticism and slumped disconsolateness that you wind up feeling blocked off from, rather than granted vivid access, to Yank's belatedly perturbed soul. When Richard Jones is good, he's very very good and when bad, horrid. In this disappointing excursion, he's neither.

To 21 November; 0330 333 6906

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