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Posts Tagged ‘Mimi Jordan Sherin’

I can’t begin to imagine what the audience thought of this early expressionistic Eugene O’Neill play when it was first staged on Broadway 93 years ago. It probably wouldn’t make it to Broadway or the West End today (unless it had a Hollywood star, obviously). It’s only been done here in English once in my 35 years of London theatregoing, in 2012 at Southwark Playhouse – a terrific production. So here we are just three years later in the much bigger Old Vic.

It starts in the testosterone fuelled engine house of a transatlantic liner with Yank, the central character, ruling the roost as they drink heavily. A rich girl who we first see on deck turns up in the engine house as if visiting a zoo. This has a profound impact on Yank and when he’s back in New York he’s railing against the upper class and gets arrested. Prison confirms his beliefs and he joins a union upon release, but is thrown out on suspicion of being a spy, ending up in a zoo where he talks to and releases an ape, who kills him.

It’s not a great play, but it is fascinating (as is O’Neill’s previous expressionistic piece, Emperor Jones) and way ahead of its time. A review at the time apparently said ‘before The Hairy Ape we had plays, now we have drama’. Left-wing drama on Broadway almost 100 years ago! I can’t think of a better director than Richard Jones and his use here of stylised movement (choreographer Aletta Collins!) is particularly effective. Stewart Laing’s striking design creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the below deck scenes, with stunning and occasionally blinding lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin.

Bertie Carvel seems taller and bigger and larger than life, with huge presence as Yank. He’s surrounded by a fine cast of twelve actors and two actresses, but its really Yank’s play and Carvel gives a towering performance.

It doesn’t have the intensity and intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse production, but its good to see it on a major stage, if a little too soon after the last outing. 

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