Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape is one mans search to belong. Working onboard a ship as a coal stoker, Yank believes he rules the roost and is the strongest of the whole crew. His status is called in to question when the daughter of the cruise liner owner insists on seeing what goes on below deck. When she sees Yank, she screams and calls him a disgusting hairy ape because he is filthy. He doesn’t understand why he is so different from her and goes on a soul searching journey to find out who he really is. Realising that he doesn’t fit in with the upper class people of the world, Yank feels alone and isolated, like an ape behind bars. Can Yank free himself from the cage he has found himself in, or will it all become too much for him to comes to terms with?
Bertie Carvel plays the lead role of Yank brilliantly. His muscular arms and aggressive tone are a distant cry from the role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical (a role he originated in the West End and on Broadway) showing true versatility. The rest of the cast work well as an ensemble piece but the role of Yank is the central character.
The first scene of the show, with all the men working on the boat is difficult to watch due to the variation of different accents (done to show that ship workers come from all around the world) and the constant shouting of the men but from the second scene onwards things settle down and become more comfortable.
The Hairy Ape is a story of social acceptance and the divide between classes. There is some lovely choreography and a symbolic metaphorical ending. Definitely worth a trip down to the Old Vic to see it and also check out their new all-day cafe and late night bar PENNY whilst you’re there.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Hairy Ape is playing at The Old Vic until 21 November 2015. Click here to save up to 45% on tickets