Review: The Hairy Ape

Written for Time Out

Emma King (as Mildred) and Bill Ward (as Yank) in The Hairy Ape, 2012

Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist monument to the oppressed industrial class is once more unleashed on London after 25 years. In Kate Budgen’s muscular revival the beast is given full rein, with a virile cast running full-tilt through O’Neill’s text. But though the walls of Southwark Playhouse shake, Budgen is never in danger of losing control in a production that is as stylish as it is visceral.

Yank works as a stoker on an ocean liner. Proud of his physical prowess and control over the engines, he is the king of his floating world. But when the daughter of a wealthy industrialist sees him and recoils in horror, her reaction pushes Yank up on to the streets of Manhattan to find out where he really belongs.

O’Neill’s play is an existentialist rollercoaster powered by a poetry which belies Yank’s brutish persona. This incongruity only adds to the nightmarish quality of the text; a subconscious world is vividly evoked by Tom Gibbons’s and Richard Howell’s superb sound and lighting design. Jean Chan’s set creates each personal circle of hell with economical imaginative flare.

O’Neill’s bullet-fire dialogue is sometimes muffled here, but his lyricism is given full flight by an impassioned and textured ensemble. As Yank, the human engine who powers this story, Bill Ward gives a tormented and towering performance.

Running until 9 June 2012. For more information go here.

 

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